It’s only been four games, but the San Miguel Beermen‘s return to the playoffs has been a crazy roller coaster ride already. Game 1 was a dramatic comeback that had me talking about how they were slowly shredding old habits and a losing culture. Unfortunately in Game 2, those same old habits reared their ugly heads. Despite shooting literal fire from deep, SMB choked away a 20-point lead and lost to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 113-110.
In the opening period, Arizona Reid stayed true to his promise to shoot better as he led SMB’s hot start from deep. Marcio Lassiter and Arwind Santos joined in to build an early nine-point lead. Almost everything clicked except their slow transition defense, which ROS took advantage of by getting good fastbreak opportunities. They found themselves dead-even at 26-all. SMB was still hot in the second quarter as surprise minutes from Yancy De Ocampo helped keep the bench competitive. Once the starters came in, it was June Mar Fajardo‘s turn to shine as SMB pounded the ball in the post. With Beau Belga and Jervy Cruz already sidelined, Fajardo had no problems pouring it on against JR Quinahan. They managed to get a bit of separation with a five-point lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, it was much of the same as Fajardo pounded the paint while Reid and Lassiter bombed away from outside. The defense tightened up a bit, particularly on Wendell McKines. SMB tried giving him different looks defensively to throw him off. It didn’t stop him completely but slowed him down just enough for SMB to keep padding on the lead, resulting in a 12-point lead at the end of three. The fourth quarter was when Lassiter went supernova with FIVE made three-pointers. Despite that, ROS just kept chipping away and answering buckets. Despite the three-point explosion, ROS was still in striking distance. That was the beginning of the end. Much like how SMB kept themselves afloat in Game 1 thanks to Fajardo and Lassiter, ROS banked on the one-army, McKines to keep them in the game. And similar to how Reid closed out Game 1, Gabe Norwood and Jeff Chan, two Elasto Painters who struggled all game long, came away with the biggest shots. Norwood hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game a 110-all, while Chan let loose a gutsy, game-winning transition three to break the Beermen’s hearts and tie the series 1-all. That completed a 24-7 blast by ROS, including a 7-0 run to end the match. It was heartbreaking and disappointing as the Beermen let the game, and a commanding 2-0 lead, slip from their fingers.
By The Numbers
Before we get into why they lost, let’s get one thing out of the way: their offense, for about three and a half quarters, was fantastic. Just look at those numbers. Great shooting, low turnovers, and controlling the pace can do that for you. Speaking of shooting, they were really on fire from behind the arc as they made a staggering 21 of their 36 threes. Not only was a season-high, but a franchise-high as well. To put a bit of context, the league average this conference is about 8 made at a 32% clip. SMB is one of the best at almost 10 made with a 34% conversion. SMB, in their storied history, has never shot as well as they did today. They can thank Marcio Lassiter and Arizona Reid (combined 17/24) for that. But those open threes were also a result of really good ball movement. They did a great job of playing unselfish basketball, resulting in 28 of their 40 made field goals being assisted. ROS’ defensive rotations were just not quick enough for most of the match thanks to those unselfish plays. But that’s where the good ends and the bad begins as their bad habits resurfaced. When the going got tough and ROS climbed all the way back, they relied on the one play that has hardly worked so far in the playoffs: Reid in isolation. It was just too predictable an offense and went away from what got them the lead in the first place: large doses of Fajardo and ball movement. To be fair, they didn’t panic but were a bit TOO relaxed. Whether it was Austria, Reid or Alex Cabagnot‘s call, they have to do better play-calling as that was a painful stretch. Speaking of plays, their last two possessions were cringe-worthy. With less than a minute left, Lassiter dribbled the ball for a few seconds before going to Reid in isolation for what seemed like the tenth straight possession. McKines knew this all too easily and picked off the pass that led to an open Chan three. With eight seconds left and down three, SMB needed a triple. Take note, they had one more timeout remaining. It was unfortunate they didn’t use as Lassiter was denied the leather, which forced Ronald Tubid to pass it to Cabagnot who put up a desperation three over Norwood that was way off. Again, they could’ve used that last timeout. These are the kind of plays that remind me about the old Petron and is certainly a hard habit to get rid of.
Bad offense can usually be saved by good defense. Unfortunately for the Beermen, that wasn’t the case in this one. They couldn’t stop one man in particular, Wendell McKines who had a game-high 53 points on 76.9 TS% and 17 rebounds. SMB struggled all game to stop him from wreaking havoc. As long as he got a foot inside the paint, it was over. They couldn’t stop him from going to the line either as soft fouls compounded their problems. He also feasted on the offensive glass with seven offensive boards (20.5 ORB%). As I said, he was a one-man wrecking crew and almost single-handedly kept ROS in the game. He served as a microcosm for SMB’s struggles on defending ROS. They were outscored 48-26 in the paint, got clobbered on the glass 45-36, and went to the charity stripe a lot more (30-14). ROS’ 18-12 advantage in fastbreak points was also concerning. It’s not like SMB didn’t have a gameplan against McKines. They went zone on him whenever he caught the ball in the post. Fajardo was the primary defender while Reid and Arwind Santos provided help defense and denied cutters to the rim. For stretches it worked as SMB was able to force him into a passer. Yeng Guiao quickly countered though as he had McKines use his speed advantage by taking Fajardo off the dribble, which forced Leo Austria to put Reid back on him. It worked for the most part as SMB, surprisingly, never went back to throwing multiple defenders at him, especially in the fourth quarter as he repeatedly murdered their frontline.
I can’t fault Marcio Lassiter for being pissed. It was supposed to be his night: a career-high 31 points including a career-best and playoff high-tying 10 made three-pointers. His efficiency was insane (88.2 eFG%) and he topped it off with four assists and three steals. Again, there’s a reason he’s in the conversation for BPC and Quinito Henson repeatedly commenting that he should be sent to China with the Gilas squad. I doubt he can get as hot as he did today but he needs to continue to shoot to help his team out.
Arizona Reid was the other half of this game’s Splash Brothers as he converted on 7 of his 11 three-point tries en route to 29 points. He had another near triple-double with 11 rebounds and eight dimes. For the first three and a half quarters, he picked his spots well, open threes and deep post position. That soured in crunch time as he forced the issue too many times and almost forgot that he had other teammates. He had his moments, including a Dirk-like jumper over McKines and a spin off the double on Norwood. He actually had an okay TS% of 52.9 but the shot selection and trust in his teammates has to improve. He leads imports in assists for a reason.
The “magic bunot” of the game goes to Yancy De Ocampo. He made a surprise appearance towards the end of the first quarter after having played zero minutes since the Philippine Cup. He certainly repaid Austria’s trust as he had a quality six-minute run. He only had two points, one rebound, and one assist but was proved his worth out there with his size and length. At one point, he attracted three defenders in the post, which led to an open look for his teammate. At the very least, he’s a 6’9″ veteran body who can give Fajardo a breather and provide a different dimension to the second unit.
Alex Cabagnot continued his solid play with four points, six boards, and 13 dimes. He struggled with his shot (highlighted by the last possession) but did a masterful job running the offense by assisting on 46% of SMB’s field goals. He’ll need to continue playing especially with Chris Ross hampered by a swollen knee.
June Mar Fajardo had a very good first half where he scored most of his 15 points. His teammates in particular were a lot more patient in waiting for him to get good position. Before, whenever he passes it out, they would immediately put up a shot or swing the ball the other day. Here, they were patient and re-posted him multiple times. These are the little things, along with good, accurate entry passes, that make his job on offense a lot easier. Defensively however, he still needs work. It’s never been his strongest suit and that was exposed here by Guiao as he had McKines just attack him relentlessly. In response, Fajardo was just too slow or too soft on the challenge. If he wasn’t giving up easy layups, he was giving up and-1 opportunities. At one point, Reid screamed at him to go harder. That’s what he has to do. McKines will not go soft and it’s up to him to respond and try to stop his onslaught. As much as he bullies his defenders, he has to do the same against those he guards. He has to claim the paint as his own on both ends.
- I mentioned this earlier, but Leo Austria has to make a decision on how to guard McKines. If he insists on single coverage, then SMB has to defend him on the catch. They can’t afford to let him get into good position. As hard as it is, they may want to front him and/or make him into a jumpshooter. They might have to double him harder as well and force him to be a passer. They’ll have to rely on their three other teammates to make sure no one gets open.
- Offensively, one set caught my eye. With McKines on him, Reid would set a screen for Cabagnot and slip it to force the switch and have a smaller defender on him. McKines would immediately double, which leaves Cabagnot open either for the shot or pass it off for another shot. This is something they can keep milking. They can even put Lassiter as the defender for an easy outlet. Of course, this doesn’t work as well with Norwood on him so they have to be wary of that.
That definitely wasn’t how SMB wanted the game to end. ROS now comes into Game 3 with a lot of momentum. With Yeng Guiao’s counter, it’s up to Leo Austria to make the best move and lead his wards to another victory. As long as SMB takes the good and parses out the bad in this game, they stand a much better chance of getting that 2-1 series lead.
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5