Tim Cone literally did a lot of coaching in this one.
Cone got his San Mig Coffee crew to play hard in the final eight minutes Friday night and the Mixers outsteadied Meralco, 88-87, to bag No. 2 seeding and a twice-to-beat advantage in the PBA Governors’ Cup playoffs at the Araneta Coliseum.
“It was a total non-team effort for us in the second and third periods,” Cone said after the Mixers were held to just 30 points in the middle two quarters. “I was trying to get under everyone’s skin for them to pick up their intensity level.
“Nothing happened until the last 6-8 minutes of the game when they realized we had a chance to win it.”
Peter June Simon and relief point guard Marc Barroca were big in the stretch as they lifted the Mixers to their fifth straight victory to close out eliminations with a 6-3 record and finish second to idle Petron Blaze.
Meralco needed to wait just one game later in the night to learn its fate, as a 113-106 Globalport victory over Barangay Ginebra in overtime automatically gave the Bolts No. 3 seeding and that distinct playoff advantage in the quarterfinals.
Sol Mercado and Jay Washington stepped up in the crunch for the Batang Pier, who made it past the eliminations for the first time in their young PBA lives after winding up their elimination round schedule with a 4-5 card.
The loss was the fifth in eight games for the Gin Kings, who will clash in a must-win game against Talk ‘N Text on Sunday. Ginebra would need to win that one in order to avoid going through a playoff to make the bottom half of the quarterfinals.
As things stand, Petron Blaze is No. 1 at 8-1, with the Mixers and the Bolts occupying the next two slots.
Alaska, the reigning Commissioner’s Cup champion, is in fifth at 4-4 and could pull into a tie with the Elasto Painters with an expected victory over Air21 also on Sunday.
Should Alaska win, the Aces will oust the Express and they would forge a playoff with the Painters for No. 4. Should that playoff happen, those same teams will again clash in the quarterfinals with No. 4 needing to win just once to advance to the Final Four.
The Tropang Texters would also need to win that game and forge a playoff for the last quarterfinal slot with the Kings. Talk ‘N Text will be playing its new import for just the second time, and Courtney Fells will come into that game feeling better adjusted to the local brand of play.
Marqus Blakely led the Mixers with 24 points and 13 rebounds, and he distracted Mario West’s potential game-winning triple try at the buzzer that sealed the win for San Mig.
Simon finished with 20 points in his finest performance this conference, nine of them coming inside the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter before Barroca nailed two timely short stabs that gave the Mixers some breathing room.
West finished with 31 points and eight rebounds and Cliff Hodge chipped in with 19 and six boards for the Bolts, who will draw the No. 6 seed in the quarterfinals.
The 6-foot-7 Washington was big on both ends for the Batang Pier, finishing with career-highs of 30 points and five blocks that went with 14 boards as he and Mercado took charge when things weren’t going smoothly for Globalport.
Dior Lowhorn had 41 points for the Kings, who had a solid shot at No. 3 coming into the game. Ginebra needed to win its last two outings and would have bagged third seed because of a superior quotient.
But the Kings would now have to do it the hard way, starting with the Texters on Sunday.
Jay-Jay Helterbrand, the former MVP, forged extension with a three-pointer with 4.2 seconds left that tied it all up at 101, before Washington failed to win it all in regulation for the Batang Pier by muffing a fallaway jumper at the buzzer.
Ginebra also labored hard in overtime after starting point guard and national team player LA Tenorio fouled out with 16.6 seconds left in regulation that sent Mercado to the charity stripe for a split and a 101-98 Globalport lead.