The finals have been a back-and-forth affair with the Magnolia Hotshots coming away with a victory in the opening game despite June Mar Fajardo’s dominance. He and the San Miguel Beermen responded with a dominant win however to tie the series at one apiece, eerily similar to what happened in last season’s Philippine Cup finals.

With that, a list of winners and losers after two games into the Finals:

Winner: Battle of the Bigs

The Kraken-Ian matchup has been as good as advertised with both players having a very impactful series so far. June Mar Fajardo was flat out dominant in Game 1 en route to 35 points and 21 rebounds. He brought out all his offensive moves as Magnolia was hard pressed to slow him down. His numbers were a bit more modest in Game 2 (16 points, 14 rebounds) but he displayed much improved passing from the post, which ultimately helped San Miguel a bit more. His 4 assists aren’t indicative enough of how he’s improved in that area.

As for Ian Sangalang, his stat line is a lot more modest in comparison (17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game) but his play has been integral to giving the Hotshots a fighting chance. He pretty much set the tone for his team in both games with how hard he crashed the boards and outran San Miguel’s bigs in transition. He repeatedly punished the Beermen for leaving him wide open on the perimeter, which ultimately sealed their opening victory. He wasn’t as successful in the second game but he did find ways to punish Arwind Santos’ post defense, something to watch out for in addition to his being a great pop/roll man.

They haven’t done much in the way of answering each other or straight up guarding each other but it’s looking more and more that their teams will ride their backs to win the championship.

Loser: Marcio Lassiter’s Shooting

Despite knowing he has been dealing with back issues since the semifinals, it was still a bit sad (and almost comical at times) watching how much Marcio Lassiter struggled. This was especially true in the first game when he could barely move and get to his spots. Every dribble, layup and jumper was a struggle. His scoreless night was highlighted by hitting the side of the backboard on a transition three that could’ve tied the game with 19 seconds left.

In Game 2, it looked like he managed to shake off the rust as he moved better and managed to score 15 points. His shot was still a bit off and he even had a repeat incident with the side of the backboard but the fact that he could slash more comfortably is a good sign for the Beermen. 

Winner: Defensive Adjustments

It’s been a bit of chess match between Leo Austria and Chito Victolero with how their defensive gameplans have largely been the reason for their respective victories.

In Game 1, Magnolia started out by having their guards double Fajardo from the baseline to try and force turnovers. Unfortunately, Fajardo repeatedly punished that defense with how it left one Beerman wide open most times. But by the start of the second half, they adjusted by having the man defending the post entry pass double instead. That kind of threw San Miguel off and forced them to go away from the Fajardo post-ups, which stalled their offense and helped Magnolia to the win.

In Game 2, Coach Austria made a similar after the Hotshots kept milking Fajardo’s poor pick-and-roll coverage over and over again for the first 6 quarters of the series. By the third quarter, he changed it up by having Santos switch onto Fajardo’s man whenever he would pop out to set a ball screen or take a jumper. That worked to perfection as Magnolia suddenly had almost all their usual easy shots cut off.

These may be “simple” defensive adjustments but they had a massive effect on the results of the series so far. It speaks to the caliber of both coaches and it will be interesting to see what else they come up with in the coming games.

Loser: Magnolia’s Foul Trouble

If there’s one thing Magnolia has to be concerned about, it’s the number of fouls they’ve given up. A 57-42 “edge” in personals may not seem like much, but it gets worse when you look at the number of free throws they’ve given up: 65 attempts compared to their 29. It certainly hurt them how often they got into early penalty. It was made worse in Game 2 when multiple players found themselves in foul trouble (2 early ones on Paul Lee in the first, 4 on Aldrech Ramos in the second and 4 on Sangalang by the third).

Unfortunately for them, there’s no easy answer since it’s a by-product of the way they play defense. And as is always the case, there’s no easy solution to guarding Fajardo either, who accounted for 24 of those personals. On the other hand, they did win the first game despite this issue. They just have to find ways to work around it.

Loser: Terrence Romeo’s Temper

Terrence Romeo has definitely been a mixed bag in his first PBA finals stint. In the opening game, it was pretty exasperating and frustrating to watch as he kept dribbling and calling his own number with negative results. Simply put, he had a miserable outing that could be chalked up to jitters and over eagerness, much like Game 1 against TNT in the quarterfinals.

In Game 2, he shook it off and looked more in control. He was hitting shots, slashing without all the dribbling and even fought through screens on defense. All in all, it was a great way to make up for his previous outing… until the 6:29 mark of the fourth quarter when he got hit with two technicals and was thrown out for hostilities with a referee. He even got into a bit of a word war with Team Governor Robert Non before finally hitting the dugout.

The timing was just unfortunate with how well he was playing and the game already out of reach. You can be sure that Magnolia’s pesky guards will try to use that to their advantage next time so it’s crucial for him to control his temperament not just for himself, but for the team. He’s done well to control himself and fit in so you can probably chalk it up once again to his continuing maturity.