There were no big 20-point leads and no dramatic comeback finishes. Instead, fans were treated to a classic shootout. The San Miguel Beermen had the last laugh as they had the hotter hand and played just enough defense in the final six minutes to pull away 114-108 and take a 2-1 series lead against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. They are now one win away from a return trip to the finals.
SMB didn’t need to wait long as their hot shooting from Game 2 continued on to the very first quarter. Alex Cabagnot contributed back-to-back-to-back threes en route to his 13 points in the period. That set the tone offensively all night for his team. ROS kept in step thanks to, who else, Wendell McKines. Despite better effort to push him away from the paint, he still made his jumpers and ended the period perfect from the field to lead ROS 27-26. In the second quarter, SMB relied on June Mar Fajardo down low. In addition to the points he scored, he got both Raymond Almazan and McKines into foul trouble early (four and three personal fouls respectively). That helped SMB take a slight two-point lead at the half 56-54. Sparks were definitely flying in the first half. Gabe Norwood shoved Arwind Santos (yes, you read that right) after being hit by an elbow on a rebound play. A quarter later, Chris Ross threw the ball at McKines’ back out of frustration. They had some choice words afterwards. That would be a theme for the entire game as it was a tad more physical than the first two contests.
In the third period, Cabagnot played facilitator as he ran a bevy of pick and rolls with Fajardo to start off. With both of them being big scoring threats, the Elasto Painters were forced to collapse and leave the perimeter open. Marcio Lassiter was one of those who took advantage, hitting three treys in the period. SMB seemed to have found their answer on both ends as they held a 10-point lead, their biggest of the game, twice. ROS had a furious answer thanks once again to their import before SMB settled for an 89-82 margin. The fourth quarter was pretty much big shot after big shot as threes were answered with more threes. ROS went with the the small ball lineup (McKines at the five, Norwood at the four) that erased SMB’s 20-point lead in Game 2. In response, SMB went small as well especially after Fajardo picked up his fifth foul early with Arizona Reid and Santos up front. With the weight of being their anchor inside on his shoulders, Reid answered in kind as he had 11 points in the period, including a seven-straight stretch. On the other end, Leo Austria’s zone worked wonders once again in forcing ROS to shoot threes and making it difficult to get the ball down to McKines. A dagger of a three from Cabagnot sealed the deal and SMB finally pulled away with the victory.
By The Numbers
Offensively, I’m not sure what else to say as BOTH teams shot lights out. Luckily, the Beermen just shot that much better to keep them in the lead for most of the match. It’s hard to complain about an effective field goal percentage just under 70%. That is further exemplified by their three-point shooting. Both teams combined to make 32 triples but SMB had four more makes in six less tries (ROS 14/33, SMB 18/27). They seemed to almost want to one-up their record-breaking 21/36 performance last game. Reid, Lassiter and Cabagnot combined for all but two of those treys. These were all a result of unselfish basketball and great ball movement, which led to 23 assists. One other thing they did well was to control the pace. As we all know, ROS thrives in the open court, especially against SMB’s slow transition defense. That wasn’t the case here as SMB actually outscored them 7-6 in fastbreak points. They controlled the pace well and made sure that ROS had to beat them in the halfcourt. Out of the first three games, this one had the slowest pace and lowest number of possessions, which played well into SMB hands.
Again, they can score against anyone in the league. They’ve proven that several times with the number of weapons at their disposal. The difference has and always will be their effort defensively. Let’s be clear though, this was an offensive showing for both teams but SMB finally locked it down in the latter half of the playoff period. Once again, it was their zone defense that spelled the difference. After Guiao seemingly solved it in Game 2, Austria came back with slight adjustments. I mentioned before the game how he might have to take risks and pick his poison and he did just that. He had both bigs on McKines the entire time and just relied on the three perimeter guys’ speed, hustle, and court awareness to challenge the other four. They were definitely cracks that led to open looks for ROS behind the arc (and boy, did they make them). But that also made them ignore McKines inside the paint, especially with how he’s hardly missed all night (12/14 FGs, 13/14 FTs). Austria’s gamble paid off in the end. Even before that stretch, they already threw different looks at him defensively. Early on, Reid pushed him out of the paint and made him a jump shooter. When he got into good post position, a hard double would come and force him to give up the rock which resulted into either a steal or a worse look for his team. All in all, Austria and the coaching staff may have found an answer to slowing him down.
My only complaint would be the rebounding. SMB lost the battle on the glass 35-37, offensive boards 10-14 and second chance points 10-21. I could forgive the lack of offensive rebounds especially with their percentages from the floor. What they really have to focus on is their defensive rebounding. It wasn’t just McKines grabbing boards, but Norwood, Jireh Ibanes and even Paul Lee got into the action. Several times the loose ball just found their way into a ROS players hands but there needs to be better effort in locating guys and boxing them out. That’s just too big of an advantage.
As usual, the starters carried this team forward. 97 of SMB’s points came from the foursome of Reid, Fajardo, Lassiter and Cabagnot. Alex Cabagnot was named Best Player of the Game and with good reason: 26 points on 84.9 TS%, five boards, nine dimes, and three steals rounded out his night. Guiao’s decision to put TY Tang in the starting lineup backfired as that got Cabagnot’s rhythm going early. He was the biggest reason SMB’s excellent ball movement (assisted on 49.4% of their possessions) and controlled the pace. Not only did he hit five of his seven deep balls, he also supplemented that with some hard drives to the rim. This is the kind of dynamic play that SMB really needs from their top point guard, especially with Chris Ross still hobbled with injury. Marcio Lassiter was one of those who benefitted from his playmaking skills. He wasn’t as explosive in Game 2, but 17 points on four threes is still enough to make him a big factor. He also added six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
June Mar Fajardo had a so-so night. As mentioned earlier, he was great in the first half with 13 points, which was why his two-man game with Cabagnot was so effective. In the second half however, he got the short end of the stick in terms of foul calls. He was called for three charges, which are a double-whammy considering they count as both a turnover and a foul. Mind you, they weren’t of the “barrel my way through and run over someone” variety. They were because of his extended elbows in the no-charge zone. Thanks to that and a little bit of acting from the Elasto Painters, that took him completely out of his offensive rhythm. He had the last laugh thanks to a crucial offensive putback. This is one thing he and the coaches will have to be wary of since ROS may have zeroed in on his frequent use of elbows to create space in the paint. Other than that, his offensive rebounding was a positive as he grabbed 31.4% of his team’s misses.
Arizona Reid was the biggest story though. After his fourth quarter trainwreck in Game 2, he bounced back tremendously in this one. He tallied a team-high 37 points on 71.2 TS%, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals. His shot selection was much better as he did a great job spotting up for threes (7/10 from deep). His 11 points in the payoff period was impressive. What I really liked was how he got those points. Yes, he still ran iso plays but he got the ball in better positions and closer to the basket. He displayed patience in waiting for everyone to clear out before attacking the rim. As long as he’s not forcing things, he gets much better looks.
SMB only had 15 bench points but Chris Lutz made some headway. He had seven on those 15 points, made three of his six shots, and added two assists in 21 minutes, easily the most he’s played this conference. With Santos nursing four fouls to start the second half, he subbed in aptly and SMB didn’t miss a beat with him on the floor.
With this, San Miguel is that much closer to a finals rematch with old Philippine Cup foes the Alaska Aces. This is sure to put even more pressure on Rain or Shine, who are sure to come out swinging next game. If SMB can continue to build on what worked in this one, they should be able to close this one out. For now, they’ll have a few more hours to prepare themselves. #FearTheBeer
Featured Image Credit: Zeke Alonzo, Tie Breaker Times