The San Miguel Beermen won a tightly contested game, 93-88, against the Alaska Aces. Not only did win a second consecutive game, they also earned the chance to clinch the championship on Sunday. They found themselves in pretty unfamiliar territory, down for much of the game with Alaska in firm control. It was their turn to come from behind, biding their time until they finally got over the hump and pulled away late in the fourth quarter. In fitting fashion, their two MVPs June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos led the way, combining for 38 points, 21 rebounds, and organized their own block party with 10 blocked shots.
Alaska came out determined to end their string of bad starts, hitting several jumpers and were quicker to the ball, able to grab 42.6% of their own misses, resulting to more opportunities to score. Despite that, San Miguel was able to hang around because of their efficiency on the floor. Despite having fewer possessions, they were able to maximize each and every one. They had a much higher TS% of 57.7 compared to just 47.1% for Alaska. How was this possible? For one thing, they finally took great care of the ball, only turning it over in 13% of their possessions (as opposed to 20% for the series). Though they had 19 less field goal attempts, they hit almost as many (30-31). In addition, they took advantage of Alaska’s pressure defense, baiting them into early penalty and repeatedly getting to the line at a ridiculous freethrow rate of 63.5%. It also helped that they pounded the interior to the tune of 34 points in the paint and a 61.9% clip from inside the arc, more than making up for their poor outside shooting (19% from deep). It also helped that their ball movement was once again up to par, able to assist on 23 of those 30 field goals. Though they were beat up on the glass, surprisingly losing the battle 9-23, they made each second chance opportunity count, still having the same amount of second chance points. Just look at it this way: San Miguel scored 93 points on 93 possessions while Alaska only scored 88 on a staggering 110 possessions. That was pretty much the difference in this game as Alaska could not convert on all those extra opportunities. That had much to do with San Miguel’s defense as well.
A Wall in the Paint and Pressure on the Perimeter
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First of all, they did well to build an almost impenetrable wall in the paint with Fajardo and Santos. The result was a poor 22 of 56 shooting from inside the arc for Alaska, helped by San Miguel able to block 17.9% of them and altering many others. They also took a page out of their book, able to force turnovers and run in transition, resulting to 15 points off those turnovers and 13 on the break. They didn’t record a lot of steals but pesky hands and pressure on the perimeter forced a lot of miscues. Their aforementioned efficiency in the halfcourt also stopped any momentum that the Aces could have built through transition buckets. Though the Beermen could do little to stop the hot shooting of the Aces (a blistering 8/18 in the first three quarters, good for 44.4%), they limited them to just 1/8 in the fourth quarter. The guards were finally able to clamp down on the opposing shooters. Marcio Lassiter and Ronald Tubid in particular stuck to their men like glue, not giving them an inch of space to even get up a shot. With the paint already closed off, that made it that much tougher for the Aces to score when they needed as the Beermen were free to gamble and overplay outside.
Co-Players of the Game
June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos were tremendous in this one, scoring inside, grabbing defensive boards, and blocking a multitude of shots. The result was well-deserved co-Players of the Game honors. Fajardo finally had a breakout game with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots in 38 minutes. He continued his efficient play shooting 5/8 from the field and 9/13 from the line for a 69.2% TS. He had a much easier time catching the ball, using up 19.7% of possessions when he was on the court. The terrific production of his teammates in previous games paid off as Alex Compton and his wards stopped fronting and throwing hard doubles at him. He quickly took advantage of it by lording it over in the paint. There was also much more variety in how he got the ball, in particular by rolling hard to the rim after a pick-and-roll. His teammates were able to find him for easy dimes almost every time. He didn’t score as much in the second half but his focus on grabbing defensive boards and altering shots in the paint was just as valuable.
Santos was just as good on the boards and the paint, able to use those long arms to great effect. He finished with an almost identical line of 19 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks. He also had a lot to do with the good ball movement, particularly in finding a cutting Fajardo with his 4 dimes. Though he didn’t shoot the ball well from deep (1/7), he made up for it by hitting 6 of his 8 attempts inside the arc, with the highlight being an ankle-breaker on Calvin Abueva before hitting a midrange shot. He’ll probably keep replaying that moment in his head. He also made the biggest plays as he challenged and drew a foul on an Abueva fast break attempt and hit two clutch freethrows in the dying moments. He’s been a revelation this conference and he needs just one more win to cement that.
Another Breakout Game
It was finally Marcio Lassiter’s turn to break out of his shooting slump as he scored a series-high 16 points in 33 minutes on a ridiculous 91.3% TS. His threes haven’t been falling with consistency lately and he made adjustment to start the game. Instead of trying to shoot his way out of the slump, he decided to step into the arc, be aggressive, and drive to the rim. That got him in rhythm early as he finally started draining three-pointers in the second half, including 2 in the third quarter as Alaska tried to pull away. In all, he shot 71% from the field, 75% from deep, and 75% from the line. Though his defense was below average for much of the game, he more than made up for it in the fourth quarter as he finally hunkered down and stuck to his man. Hopefully this breakout leads to more consistent play, something the Beermen will definitely need as they try to close this series.
Ball movement was a big part of their efficient play and credit has to be given to Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross for setting up the offense. With Cabagnot’s Game 4 explosion, Alaska defenders made it a point to stick close to him every time. He took advantage by getting to the line through aggressive drives or baiting his defenders who were too close. He only shot 1/8 from the field (0/5 from deep) but got to the stripe 9 times and hit 5 of them. Aside from that, he was much more focused on creating for his teammates, following up his zero assist Game 4 with 8 assists in this one, mostly coming on pick-and-rolls with Fajardo. In his 33 minutes, he assisted on 18.3% of the team’s field goals. Even when the bench unit came in, Ross continued the trend as he scored only 2 points but had 7 assists in 19 minutes, assisting on 26.9% of his team’s baskets when he was on the floor. In addition to the dimes, both had no problems repeatedly breaking the press by Alaska.
Speaking of benches, they came up huge in a pivotal stretch between the third and fourth periods. With Compton opting to go super small with a Rome Dela Rosa and Vic Manuel frontcourt in an effort to speed up the game, San Miguel’s second unit came alive. They only scored 7 points in the first half before blasting Alaska with 21 in the second. Ross led the charge but the points came from three different sources. Doug Kramer and David Semerad probably licked their chops as they were the bigger frontcourt for once, repeatedly getting to the rim and grabbing rebounds. Kramer had 9 points (2/3 FGs, 5/5 FTs, 86.5 TS%) and 2 rebounds in just 9 minutes while Semerad had 9 and 3 on perfect 4/4 from the field in 10 minutes before fouling out. They were quality minutes in a critical stretch that changed the complexion of the game.
Ronald Tubid shrugged off a 0-4 start, hitting all 3 of his shots in the second half for his 8 points. All 3 came in the paint as he also took advantage of the lack of shot blockers when Alaska went small. More than that, it was his defense that made the difference. After Cyrus Baguio and Dondon Hontiveros exploded in the third quarter, Tubid got to work pressuring them on the perimeter and denying them clear lanes to the rim. His play in extended minutes (24) was critical especially with Chris Lutz having an off-night (4 points, 4 rebounds in 26 minutes).
In sharp contrast to the previous 4 games, San Miguel found themselves down for almost the entire game. But they didn’t panic, didn’t look to just put points up on the board, and just executed their gameplan until they found an opportunity to take the lead. Once again, it was a perfect example of Coach Leo Austria’s poise and composure trickling down to his players. With this, they finally have an opportunity to end their title drought on Sunday. Alaska is sure to mount furious resistance but hopefully, San Miguel is able to close it out like they did in the semis. They just have to remember that they are on the brink, just one step closer to that elusive championship. #FearTheBeer
Featured Image Credit: Paul Mata, Sports5