The San Miguel Beermen surprised many, including their own fans, with a runaway 108-78 victory in Game One of the Governor’s Cup finals. For a team that just played a tough closing game two days prior and only had one day to prepare for the next series, they certainly didn’t play the part of a tired and unprepared squad. On the other hand, Alaska was the exact opposite as they did not look sharp at all. It sure looked like the added time off didn’t do them any favors.
It didn’t take long for the Beermen to begin their onslaught. Expected to have a slow start, they instead raced out to a 35-22 opening quarter thanks to the hot shooting of Alex Cabagnot and a surprise starter in Chris Lutz. They combined for 19 big points, almost outscoring the whole Alaska team. The second period was less of a shootout and more of a gritty defensive stand for both squads. It wasn’t until Calvin Abueva made his mark that the Aces were able to score seven straight and cut the lead down to nine. The Beermen maintained their composure thanks to back-to-back triples from Arwind Santos to stop Alaska’s momentum. At the half, San Miguel still led by 13, 54-41.
In the third quarter, it was much of the same. Offenses struggled but defenses still held strong. After a measly four points in the first half, import Romeo Travis finally got his points and helped Alaska cut the lead down to single digits twice. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t get over the hump while the Beermen played enough on both ends to maintain a 12-point lead after three. In most games, you’d expect the big Alaska run to happen eventually. Well, San Miguel stepped on the gas in the fourth period and prevented it from happening altogether. With Travis having an off night and not much offense from everyone else, the Beermen just poured it on with the lead getting bigger and bigger. They outscored the Aces 31-13. Arizona Reid almost outscored them by his lonesome with 12 in the quarter before San Miguel’s bench put the finishing touches on their 30-point win, a record-matching feat in the finals.
By The Numbers
From the get go, San Miguel took over the game and never looked back. During their meeting in the elimination round, the Beermen were held to their lowest point total in the conference. They similarly returned the favor, thanks in large part to their defensive work. The concern heading into this game was if they could get stops consistently, especially with how the semifinals was such a high-scoring affair. Well, they proved that as false with this one as they made sure Alaska would struggle to score from everywhere. They limited them to just 35.2% from the field, 28 points in the paint, 20% from deep and just 19 free throw attempts. They didn’t let them turn it on in transition either with just a measly two fastbreak points. Yes, the Aces certainly looked rusty and could not hit point-blank layups, gimmies and even open jumpers. But the Beermen contributed by making it that much tougher to score. One other thing San Miguel did paricularly well was in turnover points. They’re not really a team that forces turnovers, preferring to avoid gambling and play solid positional defense. Of Alaska’s 12 turnovers, only three were a direct result of a steal. What the Beermen did well was punish them for mistakes, especially in the first half where they led points off turnovers 12-0, practically their whole lead. They ended the night with a 16-2 advantage and that certainly helped their cause.
This is not to say San Miguel was a slouch offensively. After all, 116.6 points per 100 possessions is no joke. Professors always say that the start and end to an essay are the most important parts. That can be applied here as the Beermen supplemented a hot start with an even stronger finish. They didn’t shoot the same scintillating percentages compared to the semifinals (45.1% from the field, 35.7% from beyond the arc, both in line with their elimination round averages) but still had a really high offensive rating. Aside from points off turnovers, they helped themselves by being aggressive in forcing the action inside: 36 points in the paint and 28 trips to the charity stripe, where they made 24 (85.7%). They also continued their unselfish play, consistently finding the open man and making the extra pass. Their familiarity was on display especially in one possession where two Beermen controlled and tipped passes in the air with just their fingertips.
One last factor was the rebounding with a 55-44 advantage. The Aces headed into the finals as the best rebounding team in the playoffs by grabbing 55% of total rebounds. By comparison, San Miguel, even with their big frontcourt, rebounded just 49% and lost that battle in four of their six playoff games. That wasn’t much of a problem in Game One. Case in point, Alaska’s top rebounders in Travis, Abueva and Sonny Thoss combined for just 20 boards while Reid, Santos and Fajardo had 32. Fajardo alone had 17. That really helped their cause in limiting Alaska to just one shot per possession.
The starters starred again as all of them scored in double digits and produced most of San Miguel’s points, rebounds and assists. Arizona Reid led the way with another fantastic performance with game-highs of 32 points and seven assists. He also contributed six rebounds and a block. While he missed all four of his three-pointers, he made up for it with 14 two-pointers and four freethrows to get to a 52 TS%. Again, he was solid offensively, especially on the pick and roll, which Alaska consistently switched. Much like against Rain or Shine, he obliged with the mismatch and either scored easily over them or found the open man. He was also the prime reason for Travis’ off night: just 14 points on a paltry 38 TS% and just a single trip to the line. Travis was definitely not Wendell McKines in terms of strength in the post, which made it easier for Reid to defend him. That his jumper was off made it easier. Reid’s defensive effort has been a big target for many during the playoffs. It’s nice to see him put forth the effort on that end. His battle with McKines served to prepare him well.
June Mar Fajardo was unstoppable once again with 18 markers, 17 boards and three blocks, the latter two game-highs. After a subpar rebounding performance in the previous series, he certainly made his mark on the glass as he grabbed 25.3% of all available rebounds when he was on the floor, including 12.7% offensively and 36.4% defensively. His efficiency wasn’t as high at 58.4 TS%, which says a lot about how efficient he usually is, but it’s hard to complain about his 10 trips to the line and the dominance he displayed in the third quarter to help his team maintain the lead. On defense, he toughened up a bit more defensively, able to limit and deter Alaska’s penetration by blocking or altering most of them. One thing I do want him to be wary of is raising his arms when defending the paint as he has a tendency to drop his arms, which tempts referees to whistle a foul. He needs to work on verticality. But it was still a solid opening performance.
Chris Lutz in the starting five was coach Leo Austria’s first interesting adjustment. It turned out to be a brilliant one as Lutz rewarded him with 12 points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal. He hit three corner triples and missed just one field goal attempt. It was certainly a flash of the Lutz we’re used to seeing, complete with good passing and a decisive transition bucket. His aggressive start helped his confidence after such a poor conference. That also helped dampen the blow of Marcio Lassiter’s off-game (nine points, 2/7 from deep). Lutz was noted as one of San Miguel’s x-factors in the finals and if he can keep this up, that would go a long way.
Speaking of x-factors, the bench was one and they were fairly effective. Too many times San Miguel would see their level of play drop with their starters out but the second unit proved tough, especially defensively. They struggled to get points but made sure Alaska suffered the same. If Lassiter continues to come off the bench, that would certainly boost their production.
- It might be nitpicking at a 30-point blowout, but there were two lineups that were eyebrow-raising (in a bad way). What makes San Miguel so dangerous is the amount of spacing they can surround Fajardo with. In two instances, Austria trotted him out with Chris Ross and either Gabby Espinas or David Semerad. That’s something he should avoid as having two non-shooters with Fajardo is just one too many. Ross and Semerad can hit the occasional jumper but you don’t really want that except as a last resort. Espinas shouldn’t be too far from the paint either. They just have to be mindful of who Fajardo plays with to give him the biggest amount of space to operate in.
Leo Austria came in with the perfect gameplan and his wards executed it to perfection, something that surprised even their coach. Not only did they control the game all the way but they were able to answer everything Alaska threw at them. It was also impressive how they were able to prevent Alaska’s big run entirely. Yes, rust may have played a part but San Miguel pounced on those shortcomings. Alex Compton himself admitted he was out-coached. He is and his team will be better prepared in game two. But for now, Austria took it upon himself to make the first move and the Beermen responded positively. #FearTheBeer
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5