No June Mar Fajardo? No Problem. Only one other player taller than 6-4? Easy. That seemed to be the thinking for the San Miguel Beermen as they bucked Fajardo’s early exit to win just their second game this conference against the Barako Bull Energy, 102-91. Arwind Santos finally broke out of his slump and stepped up in the absence of their franchise player. He and Arizona Reid combined for 56 points and 29 rebounds.
In the early goings of the game, San Miguel looked a bit sluggish and slow as they went back and forth with Barako. Just eight minutes into the game, Fajardo had to be taken out after landing awkwardly on his left foot fighting Solomon Alabi for a rebound. Having lost their one good individual match-up to 7-1 Alabi, it looked as if they would have an even tougher time grabbing a win. Instead, it might have fired up the Beermen. With the lack of a good post presence, they relied on getting points in transition and zipping the ball on the perimeter to open up the middle. With the smaller, but more mobile, tandem of Jay-R Reyes and Doug Kramer, they opened up an 11-point lead at halftime. But this being San Miguel, they almost suffered yet another second half meltdown, allowing Barako to come within one. They just couldn’t get over the hump due to a better collective effort from San Miguel on the boards. Marcio Lassiter hit a dagger triple with less than two minutes left while Santos had a dribbling exhibition before assisting on a buzzer-beating triple from Alex Cabagnot.
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It was evident that San Miguel had another poor shooting night, hitting just 39.7% of their twos and 26.7% of their threes. That was to be expected with their 6-4 and under lineups. But they didn’t let their height disadvantage stop them from aggressively attacking the paint and getting offensive rebounds. Alabi looked untouchable at times with his 24 boards but the Beermen’s collective effort was more than enough to match. Better mobility and gang rebounding worked in their favor, resulting in 11 more offensive rebounds than Barako, which led to a huge 23-9 advantage in second chance points. In addition to Santos and Reid’s 29 boards (13 offensive), Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, and Doug Kramer chipped in 24 as well (9 offensive). Overall, San Miguel grabbed 55.6% of the rebounds, including 68.5% of Barako’s misses, and 44.4% of their own.
All those second chance opportunities also led to a ton of points in the shaded lane. Though Barako had a 50-38 edge in points in the paint, San Miguel overshadowed that with their 39 trips to the line. They found themselves on the line in 41.9% of their attempts, making it a point to force contact. And for once, they hit those freebies at a good rate (71.8%).
Reid toyed with Dave Marcelo all game long, hitting jumpers left and right towards his game-high 34 points. He also chipped in team-highs of 16 rebounds and 7 assists. He also added 2 steals and had just 3 turnovers. More importantly, he got adequate rest as he sat out the first 8 minutes of the fourth quarter when the locals rebuilt their lead. The team was also less dependant on his production, able to get more movement off the ball. His percentages are still a bit below average but he was much better at the charity stripe (6/10). Again, his versatility was on full display as he played all three frontcourt positions effectively, even getting away with playing the 5.
Breaking the Slump
Arwind Santos was awarded Best Player of the Game and it was well-deserved. He tallied 22 points on 59.8 TS%, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and zero turnovers. It certainly looked like he woke up on the right side of the bed, starting off the game with 10 points in the first quarter. The fadeaways were working, he was getting offensive rebounds, and even got to the line 10 times. He was feeling so good that he even shot a triple flat-footed. It looked as though that team dinner he organized had the desired effect, especially on him.
Another player who finally regained some of his lethal form was Alex Cabagnot. Prior to this game, he was extremely limited playing on that partially torn hamstring. That didn’t seem to bother him this time around, registering 17 points on 56.8%, including 3 triples and 9 freethrow attempts. That was evident with how aggressive he was in driving to the paint. He also added 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Hopefully, he can still consistently drive to the rim as that makes him much more dangerous than simply pulling up for the jumper every time.
For the second straight game, San Miguel’s bench won the scoring battle 39-22. It wasn’t just Cabagnot as Doug Kramer deserves special mention. I don’t know what happened the past few weeks but he’s looked motivated and more aggressive than usual. After averaging just 1.3 rebounds and zero points in their first four games, he’s been registering 11.3 points and 4 boards, capped off by his best performance so far in this conference: 14 points, 8 rebounds. That is definitely related to his minute increase from roughly 4.6 to 20.1 in the last four. He’s certainly making the most of it as his speed gives the San Miguel bench a different look on the court. He was relentless on the glass and in the paint. He (along with JayR Reyes) has to be given much of the credit for limiting Solomon Alabi to just 12 points in the first three quarters. They bodied him up and forced him to shoot fadeaways and tough one-handers outside of the paint. If they can keep this production up, it’ll certainly help their ailing MVPs.
Speaking of ailments, San Miguel continues to deal with health issues. Santos is already dealing with a banged up leg and Cabagnot with his hamstring. Fajardo now has what they’re saying is a “severe” ankle sprain that could keep him out a while. That’s in addition to plantar fasciitis in both feet (dating back to his Gilas stint) and his own hamstring issues. Despite renewed hope for a playoff spot, it might be better for San Miguel in the long-term to shut him down. Another player who went down was Ronald Tubid, who caught an inadvertent elbow from Alabi just minutes after Fajardo went down. With all these injuries (both minor and major) hitting the team, Coach Leo Austria is doing the right thing in giving more playing time to his bench guys.
As I mentioned, this win served to keep San Miguel’s playoff hopes alive. According to Carlo Pamintuan, they need to sweep their three remaining games to have a chance. Of course, it’s not a sure thing even if that happens because of all their losses to fellow bottomfeeders. It won’t be easy either with the Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters and Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters still on the schedule. Hopefully, the All-Star break gives them much needed rest for one last playoff push. #FearTheBeer
Featured Image Credit: Kent Clever Cruz, Sports5