The San Miguel Beermen survived a nail-biter of a game as they escaped with a 96-95 victory over the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters. More importantly, they now hold a huge 3-0 edge in this best-of-seven semifinal series. Former MVP Arwind Santos, after a 10-point effort in Game 2, bounced back in a big way with a game-high 23 points, including a clutch three-point bomb. His frontcourt partner June Mar Fajardo contributed 18 points while Marcio Lassiter broke out of a bit of a shooting slump with 17.
Bad Start, Solid Finish
Offense was hardly the problem for San Miguel as they shot a blistering 54.3% from the field, including a 40.9% clip from downtown. For about three quarters, their problems were all on the defensive end. They did a great job shutting down the interior but they didn’t help themselves by giving up wide open looks from the perimeter. Talk ‘N Text, though struggling in the first two games, gladly obliged by hitting 11 of their 24 attempts (45.8%) in the first half. Ranidel De Ocampo was the biggest beneficiary as he hit 6 of 10 3-point attempts en route to a team-high 21 points. Too many times they played good defense in the first 15-18 seconds of the shot clock only to lose focus and forget about an open shooter. They were just a step too slow or a rotation too late. Not only that, they also had issues turning the ball over in the same half. The Tropang Texters took advantage by converting 15 turnover points from the Beermen’s 9 miscues. It was really shaping up to be a high-scoring affair that was not to their advantage.
The second half was a different matter altogether as they tightened up the defense and intensity, especially in the beginning of the fourth quarter. It was a combination of the law of averages catching up to Talk ‘N Text and better defensive rotations as they only shot 4 of 15 threes (26.7%). They also did a better job denying turnover points for Talk ‘N Text (only 4 points off 7 miscues). Their voodoo on the free throw line only seemed to get stronger as Talk ‘N Text only shot a paltry 46.2% from the field. If not for that, San Miguel would find themselves at the opposite end. As a result of all that, San Miguel managed to build a bit of a lead midway through the fourth quarter before the Tropang Texters mad their last run and tie the game at 95-all. After a big freethrow by Alex Cabagnot, it was only fitting that the game ended on a great defensive play by Santos and Fajardo on De Ocampo in the last nine seconds, securing the W.
Stopping the Blur
San Miguel also did a commendable job on Jayson Castro after he exploded for 26 points and 5 threes in Game 2. He still had a good 15-6-5 line but only shot 33% from the field and 20% from deep. Coach Leo Austria threw almost every perimeter defender he had against him and it worked as Castro couldn’t really find a comfort zone for long as he wasn’t allowed enough time to figure out the defenses of Cabagnot, Chris Ross, Chris Lutz, and Ronald Tubid. Their combined efforts helped throw him off his usual game.
Dominating the Paint
|AST||PTS in the PAINT|
As I mentioned earlier, San Miguel simply dominated the interior and they did it on both ends. After a subpar paint total of just 28 in Game 2, they came out with renewed focus in pounding it inside as they scored a total of 50 points in the paint, more than half of their total score. With all of Talk ‘N Text’s attention and effort on pushing Fajardo out of the paint, that actually opened up the lanes for the perimeter players. It also helped that they were whipping the ball around with purpose, ending up with a slight 24-23 edge in assists. They simply made the Tropang Texters pay for over-helping on the big giant underneath.
Taking Care of the Glass
San Miguel continues to have issues securing the glass as they allowed Talk ‘N Text to rebound 36.% of their misses. That is a ridiculous number especially for a team with a severe height disadvantage. On their part, they did a much better job as they also rebounded 36.1% of their misses, resulting in a 14-11 edge in second chance points. Despite this, they still need to address their difficulty in giving up these scoring opportunities. I think one of their issues is that all five players on the court are almost always near the rim in rebounding situations. The problem is that long rebounds are more likely to occur for a team like Talk ‘N Text who shoot a ton of threes, resulting in those long rebounds coming back to them. The Beermen has to do a better job of recognizing this and sticking a few more players on the perimeter. After all, you have a 6-10 giant in Fajardo patrolling the paint. They have to trust him a bit more to gobble up drives to the rim. That not only helps them box out for long rebounds, but helps them challenge shooters better.
What a way for Arwind Santos to bounce back as he scored 23 points on 9/14 FGs, including an eye-popping 5/7 line from deep. Factor in the fact that he played only 27 minutes due to foul trouble and played for much of the fourth with five fouls, his performance becomes that much better. He mixed up his bombs with a few trips inside the paint, punishing defenders for leaving him unchecked. But he came up big when his team needed him the most, getting 8 of his points in the final period, including a crucial 3-point bomb with 1:34 left. He wasn’t finished as he also made one last defensive stand against De Ocampo in the dying seconds. With a little help defense from Fajardo, he forced a tough, contested fall-away jumper that only hit iron. I can’t say enough how he’s been a revelation on both ends this conference. Let’s just review those two plays a few more times.
Speaking of Fajardo, he came out guns blazing as he scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half. He was just one rebound from another double-double with 9 boards. Though he did struggle in the second half (just 5 points) against the combined defensive effort of De Ocampo, Jay Washington, and especially Kelly Williams, he still found enough ways to contribute. He was only credited with two assists but he was primarily the reason why San Miguel had so much success passing the ball and dominating the interior. His patience and maturity in handling double teams showed as he was able to frequently kick it out to start plays, enabling the guards to find openings either in the lane or behind the arc. In short, they punished the Tropang Texters for throwing several defenders in the post. He also had his moments attacking with single coverage. He’ll have to continue to mix it up and find a balance between attacking immediately or playing decoy.
It wasn’t all good for Fajardo of course as he did end up with 5 turnovers. About 2 of them were Shaqtin A Fool worthy moments, including the ball slipping from a layup attempt with no player within 5 feet of him. He was having problems holding on to the ball for much of the game as it slipped several teams. He also did a poor job securing rebounds as he kept tapping them with just one hand. He just has to grab those loose balls with two hands instead. He should also check his hands. Lastly, there was one instance where he stopped on the roll and passed the ball out resulting in a turnover. He needs to be a little more decisive and go up strong as it usually results in a foul call.
The “Lutzssiter” combination was in full effect as they were deadly on the offensive end. Marcio Lassiter broke out with 17 points off the bench before fouling out. His finest work was in the third quarter as he scored 12 of his points, including three triples. He was also the team’s second leading rebounder at 6, which puts his semifinals average at 6 per game. What I like is his emphasis on the glass, regularly helping out and coming out of nowhere to grab rebounds instead of leaking out to the other end. With his defense and outside sniping being a bit too streaky this conference, it’s good that he’s found another way to contribute to the team.
Chris Lutz was also phenomenal in this game. He registered 8 points and a game-high 9 assists in 37 minutes of action. He also only had 3 turnovers. He was pretty much the one who took full advantage of Fajardo’s kickout passes, regularly finding the open man by helping swing the ball around or through driving and kicking out to open shooters. He displayed great patience and decision-making on when to attack and when to dish it off plus he hardly forced the issue. This was best exemplified when he shook off his defender to drive straight to the rim for a layup on one possession and did the same thing on the next only to pass it off to a teammate for the assist. He kept the Tropang Texters on their toes as to what he would do with the ball.
Rico “Mr. Quality Minutes” Maierhofer
It seems every game a different player steps up to the plate for San Miguel. This time around, it was Rico Maierhofer who gathered 10 points and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes. He was also a perfect 5/5 from the field, hitting driving layups, point-blank shots, and even a short corner jumper for good measure. He stepped up nicely in his extended time due to Santos’ foul trouble. Despite being a non-shooting threat, he was able to make up for it by making himself available in the paint, with Fajardo and Lutz finding him on a few occasions. He was also a pest on the defensive end, not allowing Washington or De Ocampo to take advantage of their size in the post. Simply put, he’s proven to be a nice change-of-pace big off the bench. I think he (and Ronald Tubid) deserve a lot of credit for locking down Talk ‘N Text in the fourth quarter. Those two plus Cabagnot and Lassiter are probably the deadliest bench players you’ll see.
- San Miguel once again dominated bench points 45-27. Of course, it helps that two of them have been playing starter minutes but it’s always good that the bench can come in and make a difference immediately.
- Ronald Pascual might have hit a bit of a rookie wall as his numbers and minutes have dropped in this series. It may just be because it’s his first taste of the PBA playoffs but it would be nice to see him bounce back.
- Leo Austria seemingly took a page out of Jong Uichico’s book. Every time Washington or De Ocampo tried to post up the smaller Maierhofer and Santos, Fajardo would immediately double from the baseline, forcing them to pass it back out. It’s an interesting adjustment on defense that we’ll likely see again.
It was a great win with a fitting end. It still took me about 5 seconds after the buzzer to realize they had a 3-0 lead. They took what was Talk ‘N Text’s best shot and still found a way to come out victorious. The San Miguel and Petron teams of old would have likely folded by Game 2. But this conference and this squad has been different. Full credit has to be given to Coach Austria for bringing this team together. Now, they just have to maintain focus and hopefully finish it on Friday. #FearTheBeer