The San Miguel Beermen finally broke through the win column, coming out victorious against the league-leading Meralco Bolts, 102-86. It seemed fitting that exactly one month after breaking their 14-year All-Filipino cup drought, they managed to halt both their four-game skid and Meralco’s five-game winning streak.
The Beermen started out missing a lot of jumpers and getting beat up on the boards en route to a 20-25 first quarter, thanks in no small part to the presence of Josh Davis. In the second period however, he would take a nasty fall after biting on a Fajardo pump-fake and landing back first on the floor. He had to be brought out of the court on a stretcher but returned to Meralco’s bench in the second half, citing a bruised hip. He played just 13 minutes and did not return to the game. San Miguel took advantage in a 10-point turnaround that led to their own five-point lead at the half. They poured it on at the start of the third, running and gunning to grab their first double-digit lead. Things got a little chippy in the fourth when Chris Ross and Gary David got entangled fighting for position. The Bolts would threaten with their own fast-paced offense but the loss of Davis and the Beermen clicking on both ends just proved too much to overcome.
Leading the way for the Beermen were double-double performances from Arizona Reid (a terrific debut with 29 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists), June Mar Fajardo (21 points, 22 rebounds, 2 assists), and a fired up Ross (16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals).
“Win the rebounding battle, win the game.” That was essentially what San Miguel did as they took a monstrous edge in the overall rebounding department. They grabbed 61.1% of all available rebounds compared to just 38.9% for Meralco, who really missed Davis’ 20 RPG. They also dominated the offensive glass, corralling 47.2% of their own misses, converting them to 24 second chance points. Fajardo (9 offensive boards, 21.2 ORB%) and Reid (6 offensive boards, 14.8 ORB%) were the chief suspects in this regard. Not only did those additional possessions give them more opportunities to score, it also prevented the Bolts from running in transition to try to negate the height mismatch. If you want a clearer picture of their dominance, consider that Fajardo, Reid, and Ross outrebounded the whole Meralco team, 44-42.
San Miguel’s offense was also a lot smoother, especially compared to their stagnant sets in the first four games. There was more movement and better spacing. No doubt this was due to the import change. With Reid able to play all frontcourt positions, it allowed them more freedom in their sets and lineups. They didn’t shoot the deep ball very well but more than made up for it with their work on the glass and renewed emphasis to force it into the paint. Their percentage inside the arc (35/62 2-pointers, 56.4%) and trips to the line (40.7% freethrow rate) were the reasons why they were still able to maintain a relatively high TS%. Their low turnover count of 13 also helped them avoid giving up easy points and maintain their flow.
All they need is Reid?
Reid certainly looked like played with San Miguel for the last 3 seasons. He looked extremely comfortable out there complementing the already loaded lineup. He was played primarily at the 3 spot, which meant that Arwind Santos could play the 4 where he is more comfortable and that Fajardo had more space to operate in the paint and one more shooter he could pass out to. His versatility also meant they had more options to attack since he could spot up, play in the post, handle the ball, and roll to the rim. He can also be an interesting change-of-pace guy when Fajardo sits as he can both run and finish the break, meaning they could negate his lack of height by increasing the tempo. Of course, the question will still be how he’ll contain much bigger imports. San Miguel was able to get away with Santos guarding Davis since he wasn’t much of a shot creator. That won’t be the case with guys such as Denzel Bowles or Calvin Warner. Again, it’s just the first game but the returns of a smaller, wing-type import seems to be paying off.
A return to form?
As I mentioned, Santos and Fajardo were definitely the main beneficiaries of Reid’s presence. This also coincides with what looks like a return to form for the two MVPs. Fajardo followed up his 21-17-7 game against the Alaska Aces with his fourth (?) career 20-20 game, looking dominant in the presence. He even started the game a perfect 7-7 from the field. Santos wasn’t too shabby with his 14 points and 7 boards. He still can’t hit from deep but he has made the adjustment by stepping inside the arc to find his rhythm (7/12 on 2-pointers).
Ross was definitely fired up from his altercation with David as he proceeded to rattle off eight fourth quarter points, including a booming triple. That served to stave off any attempt at a comeback by Meralco. He even figured in a little confrontation post-game when David stormed his way to the San Miguel bench. He might not be the best shooter out of all their guards, but his gritty defense, ability to facilitate, and even contribute rebounding-wise is extremely valuable
- Initially reported to be out for at least two weeks with a partial tear in his hamstring, Alex Cabagnot still played 20 minutes en route to a 5-2-2 line. I’m personally not fond of the idea, especially with how tricky hamstring injuries can be when not properly rested. I think San Miguel can survive with Jeric Fortuna and maybe Chris Lutz taking most of the back-up PG minutes.
- It wasn’t the greatest of shooting displays, with both teams combining to shoot 6/41 from deep, but San Miguel made them when it counted. They hit all three in the fourth to keep Meralco at bay. They also held the league-leaders (35.7%) to just 17.6%.
Finally getting their first win, that should help reduce the pressure a little bit. But they have to go on a winning streak to get into the playoffs. Next up are the equally struggling NLEX Road Warriors. If they continue their increasingly strong play, they stand a good chance of getting that streak going.
Featured Image Credit: Pranz Kaeno Billones, Sports5