It looked like the night was going to end early for the Hotshots, as they trailed by as much as 19 points early in the second half. But thanks to their relentless full-court pressure D (reminiscent of Alaska’s defense on them in their first game) led by their spitfire guards Melton, Barroca, and Mallari, they were able to keep it close and actually had a chance to steal the game away from San Miguel. However, the Beermen were able to weather the storm and proved to be too much for the Hotshots as they were able to come away with the win, 87-80.
Story of the Game: SMB’s Firepower
On paper, the Beermen has arguably the strongest line-up in the league today. And yesterday against the Hotshots, it was on full display in the hard court. Purefoods had no answer to the reigning MVP June Mar “The Kraken” Fajardo as he dominated the paint and finished with a monstrous double-double of 22 points (55.6 percent eFG) and 15 rebounds. Also, he was responsible for 6 of the 11 blocks tallied by the Beermen. Purefoods’ big men Yousef Taha, Rafi Reavis, and new guy Don Allado alternated in trying to stop Fajardo inside. They were able to make some stops here and there, but the big guy from Cebu is just on another level right now; he’s even added a new weapon into his arsenal: a mid-range jumper! (Look out, PBA!)
Aside from Fajardo, there were three other guys from SMB that also finished in double figures: Arwind Santos (14 points), Sol Mercado (12 points), and the x-factor off the bench, Ronald Tubid (16 points).
It was actually San Miguel’s firepower that enabled them to secure the victory against Purefoods. Although the Hotshots were able to climb from a deep 19-point hole, they exerted so much energy and so much effort (mostly because of their non-stop full court defense in the second half) in staging the comeback. And although Purefoods has proven time and again that they could erase huge deficits, it was pretty difficult to pull it off against a powerhouse team like San Miguel. With every run by the Hotshots, laging may “pamatay-sunog” ang Beermen. In this match-up, San Miguel was just the better team; too big and too strong for Purefoods.
Coming into this game against SMB, Purefoods were already missing the services of Ian Sangalang (out for 6-8 months due to a partial ACL and MCL tear) and Marc Pingris (on leave). James Yap’s injury (calf strain), which he sustained in practice, was also quite unfortunate as this forced Coach Tim Cone to sit out last game’s top scorer for his team in this match-up. Because of this, the Hotshots had to play with an undermanned line-up. In fact, only 9 players were rotated against the Beermen (including new acquisition, Don Allado). This injury bug has become a cause for concern for the team as they visibly struggled to find their rhythm early in the game playing with an irregular rotation. For most part of the game against SMB, they had a hard time running their offensive sets and they had many lapses on the defensive end as well. It’s as if Purefoods is starting all over again, back to square one.
However, there were still positives with what’s happening with the team right now. With key starters out, bench players were forced to play extended minutes and continued to learn the system which will eventually help the team’s cause come playoff time.
One guy that has been making the most of this opportunity is Yousef Taha. Ridiculed by fans because for his journey in the PBA (getting traded here and there), he’s finally earning the respect he deserves in the league. Going up against no other than the best Center in the league in June Mar Fajardo, Yousef Taha actually finished with solid numbers posting 14 points (55.6 percent eFG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots in 30 minutes of action. With more exposure to the triangle, expect Yousef Taha to be a vital piece in Purefoods’ #DriveForFive campaign.
New Name, Same Game
I guess old habits die hard for the Purefoods Star Hotshots. In last year’s Philippine Cup, Purefoods (known then as San Mig Coffee) actually started the conference with three-straight losses. Fast-forward to this year’s Philippine Cup and they now find themselves in a similar situation, at the bottom of the standings, with a 0-2 win-loss record. It has become their habit to start a conference slow; only going full throttle as the playoffs are about to begin all the way to the championship. But then, Purefoods must be more wary now more than ever as they are the team that everybody wants to beat. It will be harder to bounce back from a losing streak now than it was 2 or 3 conferences ago. They must be able to get their act together and get back to their winning ways as soon as possible for them to have a better chance of defending their title. With the eventual return of Marc Pingris and James Yap, hopefully the turn-around can already begin in their next game against the Globalport Batang Pier.