No one can say that wasn’t an exciting contest. Down double-digits at the start of the fourth and struggling the whole day, the San Miguel Beermen managed to battle back and force overtime. They did it with a combination they hardly used before: fullcourt pressure and zone defense. But alas, the Purefoods Star Hotshots had one “Big Game” James Yap to counter. San Miguel eventually lost steam and fell 105-113 in overtime, dropping their record to 1-6.
They actually had a very good start, having led by as much as eight in the opening period. They moved the ball well, got it into the paint, and made it hard for Purefoods, especially in the paint. They also took advantage of their fronting defense on June Mar Fajardo as he got a few easy offensive rebounds. He also made import Denzel Bowles work on defense while Doug Kramer did a decent enough job on the other end. That lead didn’t last long as the Hotshots bench unit gave them a much-needed spark and took control of the second and third periods. The Beermen looked extremely out of sync in those quarters up until the eventful fourth.
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Offensive execution was night and day in this one. On one hand, the Beermen were a bit too overeager and impatient attacking the paint. Aggressiveness is usually a good thing but that wasn’t the case here. They repeatedly forced it in and tried to score over the Purefoods defense via one-on-one post-ups. Curiously enough, with all the time they spent trying to set up the block, they neglected Fajardo for much of the game, especially the second period when Bowles had three fouls. It would have been the perfect time for Fajardo to attack but he wasn’t given the ball much. It’s not a bad thing to focus on scoring in the paint, they still got 46 points there (57.1%) and 28 freethrow attempts, but it’s how they attack it that’s important. Just compare that to how the Hotshots went about it. They also kept attacking the interior but were more patient with their sets. Instead of forcing it in, they got a lot of off-ball movement going to make the San Miguel defense move and open up. As a result, they got a lot of points through cuts to the rim and good interior passing (66.7% in the paint). The Beermen could stand to learn a thing or two from that, especially with their heavy reliance on the post to set up their plays.
It wasn’t all bad as they were still dominant in the rebounding department (grabbed 52.8% of all available rebounds, 67.3% of opponents’ misses, and 40.4% of their own). They also had the edge in turnover and fastbreak points, helped tremendously by their 11 steals, and shot a very well from deep at a 34.6% clip. And for once, they won the bench scoring battle 42-25, led by Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter who combined for 36 points.
Fourth Quarter Rally
Speaking of positives, that fourth quarter comeback deserved special mention. Just look at the numbers:
Like I mentioned, San Miguel mounted this comeback primarily on schemes that Coach Leo Austria hardly use since he prefers to slow the game down, put gambling on steals at a minimum, and has a lot of confidence in his players’ one-on-one defense. This was definitely a special case and credit to him for breaking it out when they needed it the most. With their halfcourt offense stagnant, they needed to generate easier scoring opportunities. That’s where the fullcourt pressure comes in. With Ross, Lassiter, and Chris Lutz on the perimeter, they were able to harass and force turnovers to fuel their transition attack. Four of Purefood’s six turnovers were a direct result of steals. Even if they couldn’t get the turnover, they forced Purefoods to go for tougher, hurried shots with the shot clock shorter than usual. The 2-3 zone helped to shut down the paint as well. There were almost zero cuts now and Bowles struggled to score against two or three defenders. San Miguel’s eight defensive rebounds were critical in allowing them to push the pace and score on missed field goals. They also generated 11 freethrow attempts as the Hotshots couldn’t do much to stop the furious pace.
Ross was critical in leading the defensive effort. He only had one steal in the quarter but his quick hands helped tap a lot of loose balls. He also had 7 points on 3/3 field goals, 2 offensive boards, and 1 block (final line: 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, zero turnovers). Lassiter led the way on the offensive side of things. He was literal fire, hitting 3 of 4 triples en route to 13 points. He also accounted for 2 steals. It’s unfortunate that he went from hero to zero however. With 19 seconds left on the game clock, he threw an ill-advised fullcourt pass to a leaking Ross, easily intercepted by Alex Mallari. They could have had the last shot and he couldn’t make up for it in overtime when he went scoreless. It’s a little unfortunate that his heroic performance went to waste as James Yap had the last laugh. Fajardo’s (14 points, 17 rebounds) work on the glass shouldn’t go unnoticed as well. His 3 boards in quarter don’t seem all that much but was important in allowing his teammates to keep running. He did a good job preserving his last foul until overtime, but he will really need to learn how to defend better.
Arwind Santos played scarcely, registering just 3 points, 2 boards, and 2 turnovers in 11 minutes off the bench. He didn’t even come in until a few minutes into the second period. It might have just been a match-up issue as Joe De Vance and Marc Pingris could have easily posted him up. But if it’s because of injury and/or fatigue, then the coaching staff has to monitor that closely.
Fading down the stretch
Speaking of fatigue, Reid seems to be overstretched a bit. After tallying 45 minutes against the NLEX Road Warriors, he played for 48 here. He did do a lot better in the fourth quarter and OT in grabbing a few rebounds, scoring jumpers, dishing passes, and running the floor. But his 1-7 freethrows and 6 turnovers were pretty bad. I know he’s the import and is paid to lead his team but I think a few more minutes of rest would let him save up some more energy to play in the fourth when San Miguel usually loses steam.
Coach Austria isn’t done experimenting, this time going with his own “supersized” lineup with Fajardo, Jay-R Reyes, and David Semerad together in the frontcourt. Putting Semerad at the 3 despite the availability of Santos and Lassiter was pretty weird. It might have been an effort to get him some more playing time. Nevertheless, he expanded his rotation a bit more and that should help in the long run.
It was another unfortunate loss as this almost certainly eliminates them from playoff contention. Barring a huge miracle, they will be looking at an early vacation. This loss wasn’t without its positives and there are some things they build and improve on if not for this conference, then for the next.
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5