The San Miguel Beermen had to fend off a fourth quarter rally by the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters before they finally grabbed the W, 117-110, and the 3-1 series win. It was a highly physical game marred with hard fouls, technicals, flagrants and of course, lots of elbows. But San Miguel persevered to book a finals rematch with the Alaska Aces. Arizona Reid led the way with his game-high 38 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists while June Mar Fajardo was named Best Player of the Game with his best outing of the series at 27 markers, seven boards, and a steal.
Hot starts have been the trend in this series and it was no different in Game 4 as both teams seemed content to let each other shoot to win. San Miguel finally clamped down defensively halfway through and opened up a 15-4 burst from 16-all to lead 31-20 at the end of the opening period. Outside of JR Quinahan‘s eight points, Rain or Shine couldn’t generate enough points with prolific import Wendell McKines held to a singular point. In the second quarter, San Miguel’s bench continued where the starters left off led by Gabby Espinas. Even though the lead wasn’t growing, the Elasto Painters just could not get over that double-digit bump until McKines finally scored his first field goal with seven minutes left. Even then, the Beermen had Fajardo who was a handful for Extra Rice Inc; so much so that at the four minute mark, Quinahan placed a well-timed elbow right on his knee as he was coming down the floor. Fajardo was left crumpled on the floor, but was able to walk on his own power back to the bench and would not return for the rest of the half. This was the break Rain or Shine needed. Forced turnovers and transition buckets helped them cut the lead down to as low as seven. They looked to have all the momentum heading into the break, but Arwind Santos and Marcio Lassiter had other plans. In a span of six seconds, Santos scored on an offensive putback, Jeff Chan missed a point-blank layup, and Lassiter had enough time to dribble down the floor and hit a buzzer-beating three. In a span of six seconds, San Miguel wrestled back control to take a 64-50 lead.
The third quarter was when things got heated. Rookie Jericho Cruz helped spark Rain or Shine to get as close as eight. He got a little TOO into it though when he was called for a tech for what looked like a swipe on the head on a Santos shot attempt. Once again, that stopped whatever momentum they had as San Miguel took the lead back up to double-digits and didn’t look back. At this point, Reid and Fajardo, who looked unfazed by his hurting knee, took turns in dominating the inside through solid post play. Speaking of hits to the knee, Quinahan wasn’t done apparently and planted a forearm/elbow shove on Chris Ross‘ head on a screen play. This time, it merited a flagrant foul penalty 1. The hard fouls only served to help the Beermen’s offense as Rain or Shine entered penalty early. San Miguel entered the fourth period with their biggest lead at 19 points, 93-74. Rain or Shine didn’t go quietly into the night as their furious rally began almost immediately thanks to 9-0 run in the first 90 seconds of the period. It was also San Miguel’s turn to get into early penalty. After a timeout, Chris Lutz buried a corner triple to stop the bleeding. The Elasto Painters were unfazed as they dropped the lead back down to single digits instantly. San Miguel tried to fend them off with strong play from Fajardo but Rain or Shine finally broke through and got as close as four with less than four minutes left thanks to Chan’s best game of the conference. But Mr. Bagyo himself, apt for the season, buried a clutch triple in response. With less than a minute left and a precarious seven-point lead, Alex Cabagnot came up big as he navigated Gabe Norwood‘s tight defense, drove to the shaded lane, faked Norwood into the air, and delivered the dagger jumpshot.
By The Numbers
Offensively, San Miguel’s hot shooting cooled down some. After a combined 39/63 (61.9%) performance from deep in games two and three, they hit “just” nine of their 24 attempts (37.5%). I say “just” because that is right at their elimination round average of 9.5 threes made on 27.6 attempts and a 34.2% clip. That’s all fine because their effective field percentage is still so high thanks to how many points they scored inside the paint. They had a 50-42 edge in that area thanks in large part to Reid, Fajardo, and even Santos. They also did a better job of getting to the line. They had a lower freethrow rate but were just a little more efficient (FT%: 80% vs. 75.9%). Those second chance opportunities also helped. Again, Rain or Shine held the offensive rebounding advantage 12-9, but San Miguel was able to convert twice as many second chance points 10-5. The number of turnovers (17 to 13) was a bit too much and the pace a bit too fast for my liking but overall, the Beermen won because they were just more efficient with their shots. Not surprisingly, this was also the story in their Philippine Cup run. Case in point, they made seven more field goals than Rain or Shine with about the same number of attempts.
Defensively, they didn’t look particularly great numbers-wise. 113.8 points per 100 possessions is still a lot to give up but high-octane offense has been the story for both teams in this series. What I want to focus on is how they were finally able to stop Wendell McKines. Before this game, he averaged 37.2 points and 12.2 field goals made in the playoffs. In this one? He was limited to just 25 points and seven made shots, severely under his average and the only time he scored less than 30 and made less than 10 shots. He also missed all five of his three-point attempts. Yes, he still had 17 boards, 13 freethrow attempts, and a menace in the second half but San Miguel successfully limited his touches as he used up 24% of Rain or Shine’s possessions. This is all thanks to a refined gameplan built carried over from game 3 and risks that panned out. They threw a lot of hard doubles on him that made him give up the rock. The secondary help was also noteworthy for denying cutters to the rim and running hard at open shooters. The rotations looked so crisp that it almost seemed as though they left one guy open just to know where to close out. Again, San Miguel picked their poison and made the other Elasto Painters beat them. The gamble worked and a return trip to the finals is proof of that.
After a foul and turnover-plagued game 3, June Mar Fajardo bounced back in a big way to lead his team to the victory in game 4. He continued with his insane efficiency as he made 10 of his 12 attempts and seven of his nine free throws for a TS% of 84.6. Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan, and Quinahan could do little to stop his rampage, especially in the fourth quarter. His fellow Beermen knew it and depended on him to generate their offense in the fourth quarter, a welcome change. With his chicken wing moves being closely monitored, he dug into his growing offensive repertoire and displayed the finesse game. He put Extra Rice Inc. in a series of moves including face up jumpers, fade aways, hooks, and runners. They could do little but try and hold him down. He will definitely need that varied offensive game once he goes up against Sonny Thoss and company in the finals.
Arwind Santos was my personal pick for Best Player of the Game. He stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, three triples, a team-high 14 boards, one assist, three steals, two blocks, and just one turnover. This was the Santos I, and most every SMB fan, missed since the Philippine Cup finals. He was just everywhere and did not mind doing the small things to help the team. He even defended McKines successfully for stretches. More importantly, these all came in such a timely fashion. Aside from his clutch three, he would just fly out of nowhere to secure an all-important rebound or keep possessions alive on the offensive glass. Simply put, he was the hustling menace we all wanted him to be and he’s peaking at just the right time.
I can’t say enough about how Arizona Reid stepped up after a couple of bad games on both ends. Yes, he needed a staggering 36 shots to get his 38 points. Yes, he missed all but two of his 10 three-pointers. Yes, he took up half of San Miguel’s possessions (47.6 USG%). Yes, he also had eight turnovers. But what I want to highlight is his effort defensively. He was a big reason why San Miguel was able to stop McKines from running rampant in the paint. He did a better job of not only pushing him away from the paint, but also denying him the catch and forcing errant passes. He also played a much better fourth quarter. Too many times he would try to win the game with all the pressure on his shoulders. It was a different case as he recognized how unstoppable Fajardo was and just supplemented his game. He picked his spots and hit some big shots, including several tough drives against defenders like McKines and Norwood.
San Miguel has had a lot of up and downs in this short playoff run but it has only served to toughen and sharpen them up for a what is sure to be a grueling finals series. Like the Meralco Bolts before them, hats off to Rain or Shine for (literally) pushing and shoving them in four games. As for the Beermen, they are one step closer to redeeming themselves from their Commissioner’s Cup failure. He won’t admit it, but I’m sure Reid is a little happy to put one over his former team and come closer to tasting that elusive PBA championship. They won’t have as much time to rest and prepare but they should be able to bring this momentum with them. #FearTheBeer
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5