By Marcus ChhanFollow @@MarcusChhan
Fresh from being named ASEAN MVP in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), the 40-year-old legendary big-man hit a clutch pull-up jumper with 16 seconds left in the game to draw first blood for the Beermen in their best-of-five Finals series against the Warriors.
"My teammates trust me when we need to get a big basket at the end of the game. Thank the Lord my shots have been falling. It was a great team win tonight [Friday] and our defence held our ground tonight," said Taulava after the win.
Steven Demon Thomas overcame foul trouble to have a huge game as well with 20 points and 17 rebounds in a losing effort for the defending champions who now head into Sunday's Game 2, also in the Philippines, trailing 1-0 in the series.
The opening minutes of Game 1 were played at a frenetic pace with Chris Banchero (15 points, five assists) picking off an errant pass out for the uncontested lay-up to get the Finals party started.
Stanley Pringle (15 points) then hit a triple from the wing only for Leo Avenido (12 points) to answer right back with a three pointer of his own for the Beermen.
But two quick buckets from Chris Daniels (14 points, four steals) followed by a floater in the lane from Pringle made it 13-7 to the visitors with 5:59 on the clock.
Pringle had been so devastating for the Warriors when they defeated the Beermen in last year's final and the early signs were looking good for a repeat for the Fil-Am guard.
However, Taulava, who received his ASEAN MVP award prior to tip-off, was not part of that San Miguel team in 2012 and the iconic Filipino basketballer could yet prove to be the key to quenching the organisation's ABL title thirst.
He brought the home support to their feet when Brian Williams drew the defence before dishing to Taulava for the one-handed stuff.
Taulava closed the quarter in style with a spin move on the baseline and finger roll to keep San Miguel very much in the contest trailing by just five points at 23-18.
Daniels opened the scoring in the second period - his ninth of the night at that point already - for the Warriors and it could have been much worse for the Beermen soon after when Justin Williams gave the ball away needlessly to Jerick Canada. The speedy Warriors guard set off down the floor for what he thought would be an easy deuce but J. Williams made up for his error by chasing down Canada for the block from behind.
J. Williams incredibly had seven blocks in the game with the ABL's newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Chris Charles in attendance.
Ahead of Friday's game, Warriors coach Todd Purves admitted the Beermen's deep bench would be a factor in the series and his fears came true as Val Acuna knocked down two threes - he was 3/4 from beyond the arc - on his way to scoring 13 points for the game.
Taulava added four quick points as the half drew to a close with both teams deadlocked at 38-38.
In the third quarter, San Miguel came out with more intensity and started to build some nice momentum when Banchero's jump shot gave them a four-point edge.
But just as the Beermen threatened to push their newfound lead into double digits in the third period, Mario Wuysang (13 points) hit a big three late in the quarter and a Pringle put back tied things up at 53 apiece with around three minutes to go before the fourth.
The Beermen bench bit back through Acuna first with a hanging double pump lay-up under the basket and then Jeric Fortuna scored the two most important points of his five-point night with a lay-up just as the shot clock and game clock winded down in the third.
San Miguel led 59-55 heading into the final period having outscored their opponents 16-6 in points from the bench at the time.
This pattern did not change in the fourth quarter.
It became a six-point lead when B. Williams ripped down Banchero's missed three-point attempt with one hand before taking it up strongly for a double handed dunk early on.
Acuna's solid production continued as he drained a corner three off a broken Beermen play and shortly after that banked a running lay-up to stretch San Miguel's lead to nine-points with about six minutes left in the game.
However, the Indonesians hung in there with Thomas frequently earning trips to the charity stripe where he was an excellent 10/12 on the night.
A thrilling Game 1 went into the final 90 seconds with the Beermen only up 71-68 but a botched offensive set by the Warriors ended with J. Williams rejecting Daniels resulting in an expensive shot-clock violation.
Taulava then spun his man on the baseline for the sweet finish off glass but Pringle responded for the Warriors with a quick two to make it 73-70 with 36 seconds to go.
If the Beermen wanted to take Game 1, they would have to go out and win it and not wait for the Warriors to hand it to them.
And this is exactly what they did through their veteran and MVP Taulava. ABL Coach of the Year 2013, Leo Austria drew up the play for the Fil-Tongan to have square up against Daniels in the high post and he caught the import off guard with a pull-up jumper to ultimately ensure a five-point margin of victory.
Game 2 is on Sunday in the Philippines at Ynares Sports Arena.
Quarter Scoring: Q1(18-23) Q2(20-15) Q3(21-17) Q4(16-15)
Final Score: Beermen 75-70 Warriors
Beermen: Taulava - 22, Banchero - 15, Acuna - 13, Avenido - 12, J. Williams - 6, Fortuna - 5, B. Williams - 2.
Warriors: Thomas - 20, Pringle - 15, Daniels - 14, Wuysang - 12, Canada - 4, Sitepu - 2, Smith - 2.