Beer versus milk. Here we go again. The San Miguel Beermen get to face a familiar foe in the Alaska Aces. This played out almost perfectly: a clash between the top two seeded teams with identical records AND a rematch of the Philippine Cup finalists. Of course, the journey through the playoffs have been completely different. Alaska disposed of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the quarterfinals and swept defending champions Star Hotshots in three games. They’re rewarded with four days off. On the other hand, San Miguel suffered a bit of a scare with two quartfinal games against the Meralco Bolts. They’re also just fresh off a highly physical semifinal series against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. As a result, they’ve only had one day to rest, recover from injuries, and prepare for the next series.
Statistically, San Miguel has largely depended on their scoring and hot shooting to beat their opponents. On the other end, they got just enough stops in key moments to get wins. Against a team like Alaska, they can’t afford to do the same. They can’t expect to have the same open or easy looks. Case in point, their lowest point total this conference came against the Aces in the elimination round. They proceeded to lose that game and their eight-game winning streak. One thing they have to watch out for is their full court press and consequently, they’ll have to limit their turnovers. Defense will have to be their calling card. Alaska is just as efficient and disciplined offensively, that’s why San Miguel has to be able to disrupt their movement, especially off the ball. Rebounding will also be key. Surprisingly, the Beermen haven’t done as good a job controlling the boards despite the presence of June Mar Fajardo, Arizona Reid, and Arwind Santos. They lost the rebounding battle in 3 of their 4 semifinals game, not a good sign with a good rebounding team in Alaska.
The individual match-ups are probably the most interesting about this series. You have Fajardo, fresh off a dominating fourth quarter display, against arguably the best at defending him in veteran Sonny Thoss. Extra Rice Inc were tough but Thoss has the added veteran smarts to try and stop him. Fajardo will have to dig deep into that offensive repertoire to try and throw him off. He’ll have to keep his cool as well when Sam Eman comes into the game. Santos versus Calvin Abueva will always be an entertaining match-up, especially with Santos returning to his Finals MVP form. Even their back-ups have something to say with Vic Manuel being extremely efficient down low. Gabby Espinas will look to put one over his old team. He already fired off some warning shots directed to Abueva. Even barely used David Semerad could become a factor. Sparks are sure to fly at the power forward spot. Speaking of forwards, Reid against Romeo Travis doesn’t promise to be as physical will be just as important. After the overpowering inside presence of Wendell McKines, Reid will have another tough task in guarding Travis, who’s more of a shooter/slasher. In their previous match-up, was burned repeatedly as he kept leaving him open from midrange. His effort defensively will have to be there.
San Miguel’s bench, their weakness all season long, will be the x-factor not only for game 1, but for the whole series as well. With injuries and fatigue, I’m not sure if Coach Leo Austria can afford to just run an eight/nine-man rotation. Chris Lutz, Ronald Tubid, Chris Ross, and Espinas will have to step up big. It would also be nice if the barely used can contribute. You never know when they’ll be needed.
Tough series against Meralco and Rain or Shine have hopefully prepared San Miguel for what looks like a slugfest with Alaska. They’ll be lacking in preparation and rest but I don’t think San Miguel will use those as excuses. They have to come out strong, keep playing unselfish basketball, get stops, and coral those boards. The Beermen, especially Reid, still certainly have a chip on their shoulders and a lot of things to prove. This is their big opportunity right here, back where they wanted to be. #FearTheBeer
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Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan and Pranz Kaeno Billones, Sports5