I did say it was going to be a battle, right? After building a double-digit lead, the San Miguel Beermen had to stave off a furious rally by Barangay Ginebra to escape with a 79-77 victory. From the first few minutes, it already had the look of a physical, low-scoring affair. There were a lot of miscues and missed shots for both sides as well as a couple of near scuffles. The second quarter was a period of runs as Ginebra got their offense going against the Beermen’s second unit. They almost pulled away until the starters came back in and sparked a 13-1 run to end the half 38-33. They managed to build on that lead, which ballooned up to 15, until the inevitable ‘NSD’ rally in the final quarter. Big shots by rookie Ronald Pascual, June Mar Fajardo, and Arwind Santos were thankfully enough to grab the win. Despite that meltdown, there were a lot of positives to take from this contest.
|ORTG||eFG%||FTR||AST%||OREB%||2CH PTS||FB PTS|
Facing one of the best offensive teams in the league, it was clear San Miguel would have to be at their best defensively. They are actually doing a good job as they have limited opponents to an offensive rating of 91.5, good for fifth in the league. They showed it in probably their best day on that end as they limited an explosive Ginebra roster to just 79 points on 40% FGs, which translates to an ORTG of just 90.4. To put that into perspective, before this game, Ginebra has been averaging 89.9 points and had an ORTG of 101.2. You only have to look at two statistics to see why: assists and free throws.
A big reason for their offensive efficiency has been their crazy assist numbers: assisting on 61.7% of their total makes, good enough for 22 a game, both league-leading. They made it easy to score because they moved the ball around. The Beermen’s defense simply stifled that attack as they limited them to just 13 assists on 30 makes, the first time their AST% dipped below 60% in this conference. They were getting out on shooters and helping whenever one person had to rotate. It also helped that they racked up 7 steals and 9 blocks, getting in the passing lanes and challenging attempts at the rim. Lastly, San Miguel did a good job of defending without fouling. Ginebra only got to the line 15 times (25.1 attempts in their first 6 games). So not only were they challenging every shot, they were doing so without having to resort to putting them on the line.
Whichever way you put it, the Beermen’s defense was solid for much of the game. Definitely an improvement over last season and something Coach Leo Austria deserves a lot of credit for.
On The Glass and In Transition
San Miguel struggled once again from the field as they only shot 40% overall. But they more than made up for it on ‘easy’ scoring opportunities. First of all, they not only did a good job grabbing offensive rebounds (rebounded 34% of their misses), they also converted them into second chance points, resulting in a 21-12 edge. That is huge especially when faced with a team that has been great at limiting second chance opportunities. Once again, the Santos-Fajardo MVP tandem led the way as they had 11 of the Beermen’s 18 offensive rebounds. They also held a big margin in fast break points 12-3. Those 7 steals helped fuel timely transition buckets. The guards did a good job of recognizing when they had an advantage and pushed the pace.
The Last Laugh
The June Mar Fajardo-Greg Slaughter finally lived up to its billing in what was a very exciting game. Fajardo had the last laugh however as he hit two crucial baskets in the last 2 minutes of the game: leaving Slaughter in the dust with a spin move as well as out-muscling him for a layup. He (and Japeth Aguilar) just couldn’t do much to stop him here. A great example of his improved footwork and strength.
First 3 games
vs. ALA & NLEX
I wished for a Fajardo scoring explosion and I got it. His aggressive start pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game as he scored the first 3 FGs. He also had a near double-double by halftime. Ginebra put a myriad of defenders on him – Slaughter, Billy Mamaril, Jay-R Reyes, and occasional doubles by Aguilar – but it really didn’t matter as was able to carve out space inside the paint. It might have been a welcome change for him as most would send 3-4 defenders at him. The 1-on-1 coverage allowed him to get to work. He also seemed to move a lot better as he was able to use a series of pivot moves a few times, even if some didn’t connect. This also showed on the defensive end as he gobbled up attempts in the paint once again.
A lot of his success offensively can be attributed to one simple thing: getting him the ball early and often. That showed as his points went down the previous 2 games because of not only a low shooting percentage, but a low number of touches as well, as seen in his USG%. In this game, he shot it a lot at 19 attempts, the most I’ve seen him shoot. And it’s a good sign of his aggressiveness as well as the concerted effort to get him the ball.
As a side note, I liked the adjustment in how they spaced the floor his post-ups. Those last two layups he had, as seen in the GIFs above, was a result of a clear-out on the left side of the court. While one teammate was trying to get him the ball, the 3 others loaded up on the right side. This not only gave a ton of space for Fajardo to operate, it also made it harder for defenders to double down on him. That is key as you don’t want to make it easy on opposing teams to swarm him in the post.
Fajardo and Santos weren’t the only ones that impressed as Chris Lutz and Ronald Pascual had themselves a good day. I haven’t talked about him much but Lutz has been very consistent to start the conference. A very good sign considering he usually performs well in the AFC. This game isn’t any different as he finished with 10 points and a team-leading 7 assists (good enough for an AST% of 44.3%). He also had 0 turnovers. What I’ve always liked about him is his ability to slash and either drop off a pass or finish in contact, and we’re seeing in a lot. It helps that his AST% has been steadily increasing as the games go on.
Coach Austria continuing to shuffle and experiment with his lineups as he named rookie Ronald Pascual the starter in place of Marcio Lassiter. And that confidence worked. His numbers weren’t eye-popping (7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 22 minutes), but it was timely. 4 of his points came on the break in that 15-1 in the second quarter, as well as a huge in-your-face block against Chris Ellis. He also played some solid defense. It was also a bit of a gamble to put him in the final minutes over the veteran Lassiter but it paid as the biggest play of his career came at the 1:41 mark. With Ginebra hitting big shot after big shot, Fajardo missed badly on a layup attempt, Lutz recovered and had the presence of mind to pass to a semi-open Pascual for a cold-blooded 3 that gave them a 5-point lead and a little breathing room. Not bad for someone who missed his prior 3 attempts. Hopefully, this serves as a confidence-booster for the man who’s been under fire as the #3 pick.
(Lack of) Bench Depth
It was another disappointing performance for the second unit as they struggled to score for much of their time on the floor. The start of the second quarter was indicative of this as they appeared to have no idea what to run or who to go to with Lutz and Fajardo on the bench. They had Santos and Lassiter at times but they are more ideal finishers than shot creators. I think that is why Coach Austria changed the lineups and had Lassiter off the bench to rectify it but Lassiter was just extremely cold. Lutz might be a better candidate as he is much better creating his own shot. It also affords him more chances to score with the second unit, with no Fajardo to clog the paint. Speaking of Lassiter, he’s been the epitome of on/off this conference as he alternates from hot and cold game-to-game. He missed all 6 of his 3-point attempts after hitting 4 in his last outing. It also didn’t help that he tried to get going in the fourth quarter, to the detriment of the team.
It is a bit worrisome going forward as the guards have been rotated well but Fajardo and Santos are barely afforded any rest. The return of Rico Maierhofer and Doug Kramer and continued development of David Semerad and Justin Chua should hopefully fix this issue.
My only gripe about San Miguel’s performance has to be their complacency in the fourth quarter. Having built a big lead, they went pretty lax and instead of running the offense, appeared to just dribble away the shot clock and jack up contested jumpers. From the 9:11 to 2:49 mark, you could see just that as almost all their attempts were jumpers and Fajardo hardly got touches. From a 66-54 lead, it dwindled all the way down to just 67-62 until Fajardo finally got the ball and scored. They have to make a conscious effort to remember that if they can’t the ball in the paint, they won’t be able to do much. If not for the heroics of Pascual, Fajardo, and Santos, they would’ve found themselves at the wrong end of this game.
As I said, in spite of that meltdown, this was still probably their best game of the season. They played slow and methodical, pushed the pace when needed, and played honest, lockdown defense. Once again, their composure showed as they recovered quickly when Ginebra made their run. As long as they keep this up and don’t get complacent, they have a great chance of grabbing one of the top 2 spots come playoff time.
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, InterAksyon.com