The San Miguel Beermen come out on top versus the Kia Sorento, 90-74, on June Mar Fajardo’s big night. With the win, they secure a playoff berth but it did not come easy. They came out of the gate with a 12-2 blast, looking to simply overpower the smaller and less talented team. However, that would be their largest lead for a while as the Sorento fought back and put up a brave stand for 3 quarters. They even had the lead for much of the first half. Fajardo and the Beermen were simply too much in the fourth quarter however as they eventually pulled away.
As expected, the Beermen played down to their competition in the first half, they were lethargic, sloppy, and all-around unengaged on both sides of the floor. They allowed Kia to score a lot of easy buckets off easy drives to the rim, turnovers, and second chance opportunities. The last one was especially frustrating as they allowed LA Revilla and JR Buensuceso, the smallest players in the game, to a grab a total of 11 rebounds, some that led to second chance points. That can’t happen when you have Fajardo towering over everyone and the likes of Arwind Santos and Rico Maierhofer to clean up the glass.
Their fourth quarter explosion skewed what was largely a miserable night. What did keep them in the game was their 3-point shooting, offensive rebounding, and trips to the foul line. A lot of what made their offense so efficient was their shooting from deep as they made 10 of their 23 attempts, their highest mark in this conference. It also helped that Kia, despite getting good looks from inside the paint, could not hit an outside shot, going 2/18. Though Kia had a good first half on the offensive glass, the Beermen turned it around as they lorded it over, rebounding almost 40% of their misses. The main reason was Fajardo’s dominance on the glass early, as most of his 10 points in the first half were putbacks. Lastly, even though they only held a 29-25 free throw advantage, they got there at a much better rate.
June Mar Fajardo had a monstrous night as he carried the team on his back en route to a career-high 36 points and 17 rebounds. He was off to one of those slow starts as he only had 2 points in the first quarter, owing to the sloppy execution of the Beermen. The second was a different case altogether as he dominated the offensive glass, scoring 8 points in the period, highlighted by 2 putback dunks. By the second half, he probably figured that he could take any of Kia’s bigs one-one-one as he went to work in the post, scoring in a variety of ways against a variety of defenders. He was pulling out spin moves, baseline drives, and step-throughs. At times, he just overpowered his defender. That wasn’t all, as he topped it off with the unlikeliest of shots:
What a way to end his night as his last shot was his first career 3-point conversion. After all that, he ended up 13/15 from the field and 9/13 from the line, good enough for an insane true shooting percentage of 86.9%. I noted before that in order for San Miguel to be successful, they had to dump the ball into the post and they did just that as Fajardo used up 31% of the possessions whenever he was on the floor (just a USG% of 19.4% before this game). He also took advantage of his severe height advantage with 9 offensive boards (ORB% of 24.3%). Kia simply had no answer. The only real blemish was that he turned it over 6 times and had to play almost 40 minutes against this team. I’ll talk about the latter in a bit.
Rookie Ronald Pascual continued to impress as he found success once again as a starter, norming 9 points (all 3s), 3 boards, a dime, a steal, and a surprising 3 blocks in just 19 minutes of play. He looked as though he continued what he left off in that Ginebra game as he hit 2 quick 3s in the first quarter. Although he only scored 3 more points the rest of the way, what I did like was his defensive presence. He was everywhere on the court, challenging shots, boxing out, and hustling for loose balls. That’s all that I can really ask from him. He doesn’t need to be a star but a guy that hits shots and defends, much like Ronald Tubid. It appears Coach Leo Austria found the right way to use him and Pascual has looked very comfortable.
Jeric Fortuna had a good game as well. He didn’t fill the stat sheet (1/4 from 3, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal in 19 minutes) but he did a good job directing the offense. It’s no coincidence that he was the one calling the shots when they finally pulled away in the fourth, ending up with the highest +/- out of the 3 PGs (+15 for the game). He was also pretty solid on the defensive end, keeping up with the speed of the likes of Revilla and Buensuceso. It’s still way too early but I can see why Coach Austria wanted him on the team as his familiarity with the system helped him contribute this early. His shooting still isn’t up to par and we have yet to see some play making ability, but have to remember that he’s only 21. It will be interesting to see how he develops this year.
Again, Marcio Lassiter gets a good game after a terrible one, scoring 16 points off the bench (3/7 from behind the arc). The other two main scorers for San Miguel however had bad nights from the field: Chris Lutz and Arwind Santos combined to hit just 3 of their 19 attempts. Luckily, Fajardo and Lassiter had enough scoring to cover for it. Santos had his worst game of the conference (and maybe of the last year) as he only had 3 points in 31 minutes of play. It wasn’t just that his shots weren’t falling, he was also fumbling a lot of passes thrown his way. He just could not get it going offensively. At one point, he had to be subbed out in favor of Maierhofer just so he could settle down a bit. He was still a factor on the glass with 7 rebounds but that was about it. Hopefully, it’s just one bad game as they need his production more than ever. Though Lutz struggled from the field, he did do a good job of getting to the line (8 attempts) and finding the open teammate (6 dimes). That also came with a lot of miscues however as he had 5 turnovers as well.
More than the missed shots, it was the effort throughout the game that was lacking. It was practically a one man show as execution and effort were lacking on both ends, especially at the start of the game. Luckily, letting Kia hang around didn’t bite them in the end but they can’t have this kind of a performance against a team like Blackwater Elite or even GlobalPort Batang Pier, their next opponent. That is a team that showed they can win if you’re not careful, as they showed when they bombarded Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters in an upset. As I mentioned in the pregame, the Beermen have a tendency to play down to the competition and I hope that is rectified in the next few games.
To be fair, the ugly start was made up for somewhat with a very strong finish. With this victory, momentum has definitely picked up as they are assured of a playoff berth. All that is needed now is to secure one of the two twice-to-beat advantages.
Featured Image Credit: Sherwin Vardeleon, Sportsdesk.ph