The San Miguel Beermen took advantage and came out with the win against an undermanned Meralco Bolts squad. They were led by a career night from Ronald Pascual, who was also named Best Player of the Game. They also got the usual performances from Arwind Santos and June Mar Fajardo in what was a balanced attack on the Bolts’ defense. San Miguel were down after the first quarter but, once again, turned up the defense in the second period, outscoring the Bolts 22-10 in what was a fine defensive display. That set the tone for the rest of the night, as Meralco never really got close.
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This game was ultimately won on the defensive end, especially on the perimeter, as San Miguel held Meralco to just 39.7% from the field, including 12.5% from deep. They did a good job running guys off the 3-point line and funneling them to their bigs, forcing them to take tougher shots amongst the trees inside the paint. They managed to keep guys like Gary David and Mark Macapagal from heating up and turning the game around. Speaking of David, the guards did a great job limiting his touches offensively, especially with how he has been scoring recently.
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Versus San Miguel’s defense however, he only got 5 total attempts for 8 points, nowhere near as explosive.
The interior defense was a bit of a mixed bag though as they kept giving up easy lay-ups. It didn’t help that Fajardo had to sit much of the first half due to foul trouble. And even when he was on the floor, he couldn’t really do much to challenge players inside. Fortunately, they didn’t allow easier scoring opportunities, especially off offensive rebounds and in transition.
There was a distinct lack of action on the offensive glass for both teams, as they rebounded misses below their season average. Surprisingly, Meralco held a 14-11 advantage on that end. They couldn’t take advantage however as San Miguel’s defense still held strong on second chance opportunities, resulting in Meralco only converting 2 second chance points (as opposed to 10 for the Beermen). They also held the Bolts to just 11 fast break points, which is pretty good considering they averaged 16.7 in their past 3 games.
Free Throw Woes
Another thing San Miguel didn’t do well was defending without fouling, as their 29 personal fouls led to 33 attempts at the line for Meralco, a team that normally generates FTs in just 21.1% of their possessions. They doubled that amount here. Luckily, they missed a lot of them, hitting just 17 (71.4% FT% before this game, #1 in the league). Curiously enough, the Beermen have some weird FT defense as this is the second straight game where opponents shot close to 50% from there. They themselves didn’t do any better as they hit just 17 of their own 30 attempts. As I said, they’re pretty lucky that all those missed points didn’t bite them in the end. It was definitely a struggle containing guys in the paint.
A Methodical Attack
As was noted several times in the broadcast, San Miguel was very methodical in how they attacked Meralco’s defense. It’s a stark contrast to past editions of the squad as they would usually try to outshoot and overwhelm teams by putting a lot of points up in a hurry. It’s not the case this season thanks to Coach Leo Austria. They now execute a lot better in the halfcourt, especially with the focus of playing inside-out instead of outside-in, and only run when necessary. The growing comfort and familiarity with the system has also been apparent as sets are quicker, more organizations, and they don’t resort to one-on-one situations as much. The result was a highly efficient night as they shot 46.4% from the field and 31.8% from the 3. That bumps up their effective FG% (gives more weight to 3-point conversions) to a good 51.4%.
With an offense that can result with anyone getting hot played into Pascual’s advantage as the #3 overall pick turned in his finest game for San Miguel with 15 points and 8 rebounds, both career-highs. He also made 3 of his 6 attempts from deep and gave them a boost in the second half where he put in 10 of his points. He topped it off with a nice alley-oop as well. We only have to wonder when he’ll finally throw one down like his days as a Stag. Not only was he shooting well, he was also hustling all over the floor and taking the challenge of having to guard both David and Jared Dillinger. He’s not the greatest defender out there but his effort and athleticism on that end can’t be ignored. Coach Austria’s move to start him and give him more minutes has continued to be all he needed to get more comfortable and contribute.
A Bit of an Off-Night
We got the usual performance from Fajardo once more, as he normed 20 points and 11 rebounds despite early foul trouble. Numbers-wise, it was a great performance no doubt. But watching the game, it just wasn’t his day as he missed a handful of point-blank lay-ups that could have led to 3-point play opportunities. And even when he got to the line, he usually split them (9/16, largely the reason for the Beermen’s low FT%). The broadcast did mention that he was stretching his right shoulder a lot and was even icing it towards the end. Hopefully it’s not that serious. Defensively, he missed a lot of assignments, allowing Bolts’ guards to score easy points in the paint. He had zero blocks for the second straight game, but he wasn’t really altering a lot either. Of course, it didn’t help that he had to save his fouls. It is a testament to how good he is right now that some can consider a 20-11 game an off-night for him. He’ll have to do a better job avoiding getting 2 fouls early as it really reigns in his aggressiveness for the rest of the contest.
Not Just a One-Man Show
This is what makes San Miguel a dangerous team: it’s not just the June Mar Fajardo show. When everyone else is clicking, you can afford not to give him the ball as much. Once again, just about everyone Coach Austria fielded contributed. Arwind Santos had his usual ‘quiet’ game as he put up 15/5/3 and tried to be the defensive anchor, registering 3 blocks. Ronald Tubid gave the bench much-needed scoring punch as he had 10 in the game, including 8 in the third quarter alone, thwarting what looked to be a Meralco comeback. His defense and hustle is always appreciated, helping shut down David and Dillinger. Special mention as well to Sol Mercado, who has been much maligned, currently averaging career lows in almost every category. He had his best game of the conference with 8 points, and 4 assists in 27 minutes. It’s not eye-popping but he did a good job patiently looking for scoring opportunities, able to swing the ball to the open man. He also scored on two timely drives in the fourth to keep Meralco at bay. His transition from leading scorer to role player hasn’t always been smooth but this is definitely a step in the right direction.
Everyone else was pretty impactful in limited minutes. Chris Ross only played 13 minutes as the starter, but he did have 6 assists and 3 steals, showing his ability to drive and dish as well as swipe balls and score in transition. Rico Maierhofer was all over the floor as he grabbed 8 rebounds in just 13 minutes as well, even forced to play center with Doug Kramer still not 100%. Speaking of Kramer, after a silent return last game, he was solid in his 10 minutes: 4 points and 4 boards. He doesn’t have his conditioning up to par yet and is jumping a little lower than usual, but he did find ways to be effective. Even Bitoy Omolon had impact in his 10 minutes. Only 4 points and 1 rebound but he was there in the second quarter when the Beermen held Meralco to just 10 points.
All in all, a great effort from the whole team and a welcome change to see almost everyone chipping in. This brings them that much closer to an automatic semifinals birth as they are just one win away from clinching it.
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5