The San Miguel Beermen put on a dominant display against the Alaska Aces en route to an 88-70 victory, tying up this best-of-seven finals series at 2-all. They propelled themselves with another hot start and, unlike their collapse in games 1 and 3, never let Alaska threaten with a comeback. It was a balanced scoring effort for the Beermen, with six players in double figures, including all five starters. Alex Cabagnot broke out of his finals slump with a 22-point performance to lead the way. June Mar Fajardo, newly crowned Best Player of the Conference, and Arwind Santos weren’t slouches either, registering a combined 22 points and dominating the boards with 25 rebounds.

Key Stats

Dictating the Tempo

FG% 3PT% Interior PTS FTs FB PTS TOV TOV PTS

SMB

43.5% 36.4% 30 16/21 20 22 19

ALA

37.3% 15.4% 42 18/29 17 16

It all started with suffocating defense by the Beermen, limiting the Aces to a low 43.9% TS. They ran shooters off three-point line (only 2/13 shooting), forcing them to either take contested mid range shots or try scoring over their big men in the paint. The defense was so tight that the Aces could really only score by getting to the line or running out in transition off of turnovers.

Offensively, that first quarter explosion helped set the tone, going on a 16-4 run to grab a double-digit lead they would never relinquish. That was primarily due to a three-point barrage as multiple players hit triples, leading six made in the period. That opened up the floor as Alaska’s players couldn’t just sag off, leaving room for penetration. After that run, they slowed down the pace and pounded Alaska with their halfcourt execution. And that is essentially how they won as they went back to what made them so dangerous in the eliminations; playing methodically leading to highly efficient shots. Credit has to be given to Coach Leo Austria in preparing his boys and making sure they stuck to the game plan, even when the Aces went on mini-runs in the second half. In contrast to the past three games, they didn’t allow the fullcourt pressure to bait them into rushing their shots. They did a great job breaking the press repeatedly and milking the clock, grinding it out by initiating the offense with 10-12 seconds left on the clock.

smb ala finals g4 quarterbacking

Good job moving the ball and executing in the halfcourt. (Photo Credit: Ryan Paul Tan, Sports5)

Pounding the Glass

TREB TREB% OREB OREB% 2CH PTS

SMB

53 60.2% 16 39% 19

ALA

35 39.8% 10 21.3% 4

The Beermen also dominated the glass, resulting in a huge rebounding advantage. It was especially clear on the offensive end, as they grabbed 39% of their misses leading to a 19-4 edge in second chance points. It was also the added benefit of hitting outside shots early as Alaska could not gang-rebound as much with the floor stretched. June Mar Fajardo lead in this regard, able to grab 8 offensive rebounds, 35.7% of his team’s misses, whenever he was on the floor. He put forth better effort in fighting for those second chance opportunities. This was most evident when he was already boxed out by Sonny Thoss and Calvin Abueva but instead of quitting on the play, he got a hand in to tip the ball back in. That is the type of effort that’s been missing in this series, especially with his struggles in the post. On the defensive end, it was Arwind’s territory, grabbing 11 defensive rebounds (40.4% of Alaska’s misses). Those two stamped their class as they ended with a total rebounding % of 22.8 and 27.4 respectively. So far, the two wins of San Miguel had a lot to do with their dominance on the boards and that helps a ton for the last stretch of games.

Key Performances

Best Player of the Game: Alex Cabagnot

What a perfect time for Alex Cabagnot to break out of his finals slump, ending the game with 22 points on a ridiculous 66.1 percent TS. He hit shots from deep (4/10 on threes), attacked the interior (3/4 on twos), and got to the line (4/6 FTs). It didn’t even matter that he didn’t register an assist or grabbed as many rebounds. His scoring and ball handling more than made up for it. His versatility was on full display and he really set the tone in the first quarter. He had a noticeably easier time traversing fullcourt pressure as well. He was also looking to score every time, whether it was in the pick-and-roll or moving off the ball, making himself a big threat, forcing Alaska to respect his outside game.

Best Player of the Conference: June Mar Fajardo

After clinching his second straight All-Filipino conference BPC award, he tallied 11 points and 11 rebounds, went 4/5 in the field and 3/3 on FTs, good for an 87 % TS. Not the flashiest statline but he only did it in 27 minutes of play. He started out strong, displaying an aggressiveness that has been absent so far in the finals. By the end of the first half, he already had 11 points and 7 rebounds, scoring most of his points off of offensive rebounds. He went scoreless in the second half as he happily played decoy. His teammates took advantage of Alaska’s overplay on him, especially when he was on the three-point line or setting a pick. With his defender refusing to leave him, the guards had much more room to operate in the interior. His USG% was a bit better at 17%, but definitely lower than average. As long as he struggles to score in the post, he just has to contribute in other ways, by grabbing boards, defending the paint, and setting solid screens.

The Other Starters

The other three starters weren’t shabby either. Arwind Santos wasn’t as explosive offensively, but picked his spots well, scoring 11 points on 66.1% TS. I already talked about his 14 rebounds but his work on the defensive end was noteworthy. The pounding he received in Game 1 seemingly woke him up as he has been a brick wall in the paint. He’s been great as maintaining his position and using his jumping ability and long arms to challenge those shots. He’s been so good at that end that posting him is almost a bad play right now. Like I said before, he’s been looking more and more like the defensive demon of four or five seasons ago.

After a three-point Game 3, Chris Lutz bounced back with a silent 11-point, 7-assist effort in his 33 minutes of play. You wouldn’t even notice his production as all his shots and plays were within the flow of the offense. He didn’t force anything and looked to keep the ball moving, evidenced by his team-high assists. He might have taken lessons from Chris Ross, stripping Alaska players on the break several times to stop it. His partner Marcio Lassiter showed up as well. He didn’t have a great night shooting the ball (10 points on 38.8% TS) but his two triples in the first half served to open up the floor. More importantly, he was able to contribute in other departments with his 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Like Cabagnot, he looked much more relaxed and handled Alaska’s pressure a lot better.

The Saint

Seemed fitting that Ronald “The Saint” Tubid had his best game of the finals prior to the arrival of Pope Francis in the Philippines. He was a whirlwind of energy out there, scoring 13 in just 14 minutes on 59.7% TS, including 2 triples. He was everywhere on the court, grabbing boards, running on the break, and getting steals. This couldn’t have come at a better time for the Beermen and hopefully he continues to impact the game in the next few days.

smb ala finals g4 tubid

‘The Saint’ finally graced us with his presence in this one. (Photo Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5)

Tweaking the Rotation

I think I need to talk a bit about Austria’s rotation. Much like how Abueva starting provided a spark for Alaska in Game 3, reinstating Cabagnot and Lassiter as starters served to get them going early. It turned out to be a great decision to allow them to get a rhythm early, seeing as both are pretty streaky shooters and take a while to heat up. He also used his bench liberally, not hesitating to put them in when needed. This was most evident at the start of the third quarter when he subbed Doug Kramer and David Semerad in the first 30 seconds of the third, trusting them to hold the fort with a 20 point lead. He only played Fajardo and Santos when he needed them, especially when Alaska threatened with a run. Not only does that give his second unit more confidence, it also means that his two stars are able to rest. Lastly, he played Ross and Cabagnot together for about seven minutes, the first time he’s done that this conference. It’s definitely a look I want to see more often. It gives them a lot of ballhandling to break the press while not giving up that much spacing. It also allows Cabagnot to play off-ball instead of having to handle the rock all the time, relieving some of the pressure. These little tweaks are what really matter in this series and I hope it continues.


 All in all, a great win for the Beermen and more importantly, another great response after a meltdown. Much like in Game 2, they didn’t let it deter them, stuck to their gameplan, and made a statement. Of course, Alex Compton won’t sit on his laurels and we’ll see how he counters in Game 5.

#FearTheBeer


Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5