We’ll probably run out of adjectives to describe the current iteration of the San Miguel Beermen. Once again, like Game two, they were down in the fourth quarter, seemingly in the hands of the Alaska Aces. Fortunately, they still found a way to pull off another last minute comeback to take the 96-89 victory and a commanding 3-0 series lead.

Both teams opened the game by trading buckets until San Miguel took a 25-21 first quarter lead. That changed in the second quarter with Calvin Abueva doing Calvin Abueva things. He created on both ends with his hustle and defense. He also threw in a few bumps here and there, something former teammate Gabby Espinas and longtime NCAA rival David Semerad didn’t take kindly to. Also, for the first time this series, the Beermen struggled with the Aces’ full court pressure, resulting to 13 turnovers in the first half that Alaska converted into 13 points. And despite Arizona Reid and June Mar Fajardo‘s 22 and eight points respectively, Alaska succeeded in their gamble to stop San Miguel’s shooters by refusing to double the former two. Those three factors led to Alaska being ahead 52-48 at halftime.

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Abueva certainly left his mark on this game. (Photo Credit: Pranz Kaeno Billones, Sports5)

With San Miguel’s stagnant offense, Alex Cabagnot tried to provide the spark with eight points in the third period. But Alaska was just in the zone defensively and consistently stopped the Beermen from finding their offensive groove. Abueva once again wreaked havoc as he and Vic Manuel got a little into it with Espinas, Semerad and Ronald Tubid. Despite their struggles, San Miguel actually got the lead a few times in the dying minutes of the period before settling for a one-point deficit, 77-76. The fourth quarter played out like in the previous game: Alaska took complete control of the game, played their brand of basketball and seemed to have San Miguel where they wanted. Down 78-83, it looked like the Beermen would have to fight another day. But Reid and company would not quit. Led by their import’s 11 points, San Miguel exploded in crunchtime. From 81-85, they went on a decisive 10-0 run, highlighted by Arwind Santos‘ resounding chasedown block on a streaking JVee Casio. From then on, they played solid defense, cleaned up the glass and hit some clutch freethrows to win it. Once again, like game two, they used a late run to come away with the victory, this time a 21-6 blast.

By The Numbers

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No threes and a bunch of turnovers? No problem.

Alaska seemingly solved San Miguel’s three-point shooting as they shot just 7/29 (24.1%). As mentioned earlier, the Aces refused to help off shooters, closed out quicker and shut off lanes to the corners. Marcio Lassiter in particular struggled with just eight points just two three-point attempts, both misses. Alaska successfully kept him off his groove thanks to the smaller, but quicker, JVee Casio. They also slowed down the pace a ton, easily the slowest of the series, in an effort to keep San Miguel from outscoring them. Not only did they force misses from the perimeter, they also made it difficult for the guards to even handle the ball with their physicality and generated easy points off those mistakes (18 turnover points off San Miguel’s 20 turnovers).

Combine all of that and San Miguel STILL found ways to score. It’s becoming a trend that reaching 110 points per 100 possessions lead to a victory and it held true here. Not only that, they still scored at a highly efficient rate. So why is their eFG% still close to 60% despite a miserable night from deep? Well just look at how they shot it inside the arc.

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San Miguel made 32 of their 46 attempts inside the arc, a sizzling 69.6%, which helped to override their cold night from beyond the arc. That is the gamble Alaska took by refusing to leave shooters open. San Miguel took advantage of the added space inside and just went to town. None embodied this more than Reid who hit 14 of his 17 two-pointers. Aside from that, San Miguel also cleaned up their turnover issues with just seven in the second half, which helped limit Alaska’s transition attack. Curiously enough, despite the amount of physicality in this game, they were only 44 fouls called and just 35 trips to the line. San Miguel’s freethrow line voodoo made a return as the Aces made just 6 of their 17. The prime suspect was Abueva who was just 3/9. Reid looked to outdo him with a 4/10 performance but San Miguel fortunately shot better at 11 of 18.

Control the boards, control the game.

That applied perfectly in this one as with San Miguel’s dominant display on the glass as they held a big 54-35 edge in rebounding. Just look at the rebounding splits: the Beermen grabbed 48.7% of their misses, 70% of their opponents’ misses and 60.9% overall versus the Aces’ 30%, 51.3% and 39.3% overall. Fajardo outrebounded Romeo Travis, Sonny Thoss and Abueva 19-18 while Reid and Arwind Santos contributed a combined 20. That is huge especially against this team. Fajardo was (literally) the biggest factor with rebounding splits of 24.4/26.2/25.4.

Notable Performances

It really looks like Arizona Reid has had an extra chip on his shoulder ever since losing the Best Import of the Conference award. He put up another scintillating performance as he tied his season-high in points. It’s even more impressive when you consider that he only needed 26 shots, made 17 of them, and had a true shooting percentage of 67.4%. That is big for a guy known as a high volume scorer. He scored from just about every spot inside the arc, off the post or on offensive putbacks. He also hit some triples here and there and pounded Alaska’s smallball lineups thanks to his strength and height advantage over Abueva. His passing wasn’t as on point (3 assists versus 8 turnovers) but he made up for it defensively as he held Romeo Travis to another low-scoring, low-efficiency night (17 points, 42.8 TS%).

Arwind Santos came up big when his team needed him. His numbers don’t jump out (8 points, 3/11 FGs, 8 boards, 1 steal, 2 blocks) but he was timely. Early on, he did the little things needed of him, he secured defensive boards and kept a couple of possessions alive by hustling and diving for loose balls. He also made two triples to keep in step with Alaska and tried to make up for the lack of shooting from Lassiter. But he saved his best for last in the payoff period where he was a defensive menace. Aside from his chasedown block, he also swatted away a Travis attempt a few possessions later. Again, this is the kind of play that San Miguel has missed from him. And with guys like Fajardo, Reid and Lassiter taking care of the scoring, he only has to plug in the holes and do the dirty work.

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Santos continued his strong play, not minding the dirty work. (Pranz Kaeno Billones, Sports5)

Once again, it was deja vu for the San Miguel Beermen as they maintained their poise and composure against a rabid Alaska Aces squad. Despite the deficits and the struggles, they didn’t panic, didn’t point fingers and just trusted their gameplan. Credit as well to coach Leo Austria for making sure his wards just stuck to the gameplan. Now, San Miguel is on the verge of history, needing one more victory. Game Four looks to be a war, but with the confidence brewing, the Beermen are sure to come out prepared and ready. They’ll need to do it just one more time. #FearTheBeer

Featured Image Credit: Pranz Kaeno Billones, Sports5