The San Miguel Beermen escaped with a 87-80 victory over the Purefoods Star Hotshots, denying them what would have been their first win this conference. June Mar Fajardo, after dealing with foul trouble last game, was consistent all throughout, norming another monster line of 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 blocks. Off the bench, Ronald Tubid had himself a very efficient game as he tallied 16 points in just 17 minutes of action. The game was not without its difficulties however as Mark Barroca and the rest of Purefoods’ ‘Super Subs’ turned a potential blowout into an absolute dogfight in the final quarter.
Story of the Game
SMB did not have such a bad start offensively, but it was their defense that was allowing too many easy baskets for Purefoods early on. PJ Simon in particular seemed to score at will as he picked up the slack for the injured James Yap, burning SMB on drives and postups. After trailing early however, the bench unit turned it on in the second quarter with some helter-skelter basketball. At the forefront of this attack was Tubid, who scored 8 of his 16 in the period. Fajardo was flat out dominant early as well. Without Pingris to guard him, he just went to work on Purefoods’ frontline, norming 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks by halftime. This helped break the game wide open for the Beermen. Some solid play earned them their largest lead at 19 early in the third quarter but the Hotshots would not go away as Mark Barroca almost single-handedly brought them back. It didn’t help that SMB’s defense was slow and porous as they repeatedly probed inside and got some easy layups. The final period was a dogfight, encapsulated by a mad scramble for the ball at one time that led to about 4 possession changes in a span of 10 seconds. Simon cut it down to just 4 but a big chasedown block by Arwind Santos, a one-hander by Fajardo, and a teardrop by Chris Lutz in the final minutes allowed the Beermen to finally put the game out of reach.
Fear The Kraken
I don’t think we can talk about this game without going over the big elephant (or Kraken) in the room: Fajardo’s rapid development. Small sample size so far but through 2 games, he’s already shown an expanded repertoire of offensive moves. It’s a testament to how dominant he was last season as he won MVP despite his only consistent move being a baseline spin and nothing else. He just shot simple layups and offensive putbacks. This time however, we’re seeing jump hooks, turnaround jumpers, top of the key jump shots, ball fakes, teardrops (yes 6-foot-10 teardrops), and even a James Yap-ish one hander. There were times that I felt like he was just experimenting against Purefoods’ bigs. Of course, we’ll have to see if he can hit those consistently throughout the season, especially those midrange jumpers. But what’s really scary is that he’s so methodical and confident about it. There’s no hesitation and no panic even if defenders swarm him. I can definitely attribute it to his time with the national team and the chance to play with and against some of the best big men today. The other part has to do with coach Leo Austria, his familiarity in dealing with big men, and his insistence of giving the ball to Fajardo every time down the floor. It gives him a lot of confidence and a lot of leeway to do what he wants.
Of course, on the other side of the spectrum, I still find his defense a little problematic, especially in this game. He’s noticeably less quicker than he was during the World Cup, whether it’s due to his knee I don’t know. But he still has some problems on that end as he was getting caught ball watching too many times or just allowing a perimeter player an easy layup inside. Case in point, Barroca took advantage of this by running a pick and roll with Fajardo’s man almost every time down the floor, usually ending with a wide open jumper. It’s definitely something they have to work on, especially as more teams start exploiting this weakness.
Tubid had himself a heck of a game as he led the Beermen’s second unit, hitting half of his 6 3-point attempts and all 3 of his 2-pointers. I always criticized him last season as he loved to go for ill-advised isolation plays (usually ending in a bad turnaround jumper) but his shot was falling this time. Not only that, he was taking some relatively good ones within the flow of the offense. He was being smart with his aggressiveness. He was instrumental for the Beermen breaking the game open in the second period, helping outscore the Hotshots’ vaunted bench 18-7 at halftime. He also hit back-to-back 3s at the start of the fourth (including a fading, double pump 3 to beat the shot clock) to get some breathing room. His production helped offset what was a woeful night from Marcio Lassiter (1 of 10 from the field in 33 minutes). His defense was another matter entirely, as he got burned several times guarding Barroca so that is something he has to work on. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a vintage performance, reminding me of his time with Barangay Ginebra.
Sol the Quarterback
Sol Mercado has often been criticized for his inability to run the offense, hesitation on throwing passes, and out of control, kamikaze drives. This game however was the complete opposite. It didn’t show in his assist numbers (he ‘only’ had 2 assists) but he did a very good job of directing and organizing the team. Except for the bench’s good run in the second quarter, SMB’s offense arguably stagnated when he was off the floor. He also chose his spots well when he wanted to score, either with pull-up jumpers or strong drives to the rim on route to 12 efficient points. If he keeps up this kind of play, that would bode well for the Beermen’s campaign.
Killer Mentality (or lack thereof)
The Beermen weren’t without their faults however and it was primarily their inability to close this game. In a span of one quarter, they built their largest lead at 19 and subsequently had it chopped down to just 7. It was noticeable that they played “not to lose” so to speak, as they deliberately slowed the game down, stopped giving the ball to Fajardo down low, and were very lax on defense, especially in transition. Purefoods, the veterans that they are, took quick advantage. They had more offensive rebounds, 2nd chance opportunities, fast break points, and points in the paint. It’s a dangerous game they played and something that needs to be addressed. I’ve no doubt Coach Austria already took note. A few lucky bounces could’ve lost the game.
But the positive we can take from this is the composure they showed once more. When the lead was brought down to 7, Tubid immediately answered with a couple of baskets. No question the team was rattled a bit in the face of that furious rally, especially when they suddenly busted out a full court press in the fourth quarter, but they recovered quickly and answered right back. Last season’s team would have folded. It’s a nice change and something that will hopefully continue to be the trend this season.
Some Quick Hits
- Arwind Santos provided some timely defense as he blocked 2 crucial layups in the waning moments, making up for some ill-advised turnovers in the same period.
- Doug Kramer had another solid outing with 5 points and 6 rebounds in just 12 minutes. He’s a big reason why the second stringers have been able to hold their own so far.
- Chris Ross didn’t have a good outing once again (4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals). His postups, something he’s used successfully on smaller defenders, hasn’t been as effective, especially against Barocca. Hopefully, he picks it up in the next few games.
- Ronald Pascual finally got his first PBA point(s) with a 3-pointer. It will be very interesting to see how he pans out this season as he hasn’t gotten much floor time thanks to SMB’s deep wing rotation.
- Coach Austria appears to be fiddling a bit with the minutes for the backup 4, as he played Rico Maierhofer in this game and Justin Chua in their previous. I hope we get to see some of newly activated rookie David Semerad as well, especially since I am not too familiar with his game.
With the 2-0 record and a share of the lead in the game, the Beermen get a nice one-week layoff to make a few tweaks. They’ve had a good start so far but it’s been a quality of this team the past 2 seasons only to flame out in the end. Maybe this time it could be different and they’ll be able to ride the momentum into some more wins.
Featured Image Credit: Czeasar Dancel, Yahoo PH Sports