The script was pretty much set. The Alaska Aces would come out strong after the Game One blowout. They did come out strong as they jumped to a 10-4 lead. Sonny Thoss, who was quoted as wanting to show June Mar Fajardo who was the real boss, outworked his counterpart with six points in that early run. However, San Miguel answered with an 8-0 run led by a seemingly spited Arizona Reid, who lost the Best Import of the Conference award to Romeo Travis. He had 13 in the opening period to lead his team to a 28-24 advantage. The Beermen poured it on in the second quarter with terrific passing and hot three-point shooting to punish Alaska for attempting to double or leave someone open. They had their biggest lead of the game at 41-31. It looked to be another blowout, but the Aces lived up to their “No Quit Squad” moniker and went on a 13-6 run to cut the lead down to just three at the half. As hot as they were, San Miguel’s marksmanship from deep dried up quickly, which allowed their opponents to press the advantage.
San Miguel’s problems continued into the third quarter as they could not execute their sets properly, oftentimes forcing contested jumpers. Though Fajardo had seven points in the period (compared to just three in the first half), the Beermen just couldn’t get their offensive rhythm going. Not only that, but the Aces seemed to have figured it out with their offense humming and the defense sticking to San Miguel’s shooters. Chris Banchero and Calvin Abueva tag-teamed to tie it all up at 74, heading into the final period. They just kept pounding and pounding until Abueva hit a three to grab their biggest lead of the game. San Miguel looked tired, threes weren’t falling, Fajardo couldn’t get going, and Reid could hardly breathe having to guard Travis AND generate shots on the other end. They could only score five total points in the first six minutes. It was at this point that the game would follow the intended script: a spirited Alaska team would overwhelm a tired San Miguel squad for the series-tying victory. The 50-50 balls and 50-50 calls were going their way and momentum totally shifted. But this San Miguel squad didn’t want to follow the script. They still had plenty of time and the lead was still manageable. Slowly but surely, they chipped away the deficit, starting to regain their flow offensively. At 2:48 remaining with a 90-95 deficit, Austria mapped out a great play that got Marcio Lassiter an open three to get within two. Reid would follow it up with a two of his own to tie it up. In the next possession, Dondon Hontiveros inexplicably missed two free throws including an airball. Lassiter would hit another booming triple over his former mentor to take the lead and silence the rabid Alaska crowd. From then, Fajardo grabbed defensive rebounds and combined with Reid to drain clutch free throws to complete their last minute comeback. Down 90-95, San Miguel went on a 13-0 blast to win it 103-95 and gain a 2-0 series lead.
By The Numbers
Watching the game, you’d think Alaska finally figured out San Miguel’s offensive juggernaut, especially with how tough they played them from the late second quarter to the early fourth. But lo and behold, they still had an effective field goal percentage close to 60%. Why was that? Just look at their three-point shooting: 17/40 (42.5%). In fact, HALF of their total makes and attempts were from behind the arc (two-pointers: 18/35). That already takes into account the lulls they had in the middle quarters. On one hand, Alaska was able to force them outside. On the other, San Miguel happily obliged. And these weren’t just them jacking up shots either. It was the result of really good ball movement, to the tune of 25 assists and an assist rate of 71.4%. Almost three-fourths of their field goals were off assists. Reid (seven assists, 38.4 AST%) and Chris Lutz (seven assists, 47.8 AST%), who built on his Game One performance, were the main culprits as they really spread the leather. Alaska’s strategy of doubling Reid or Fajardo and switching the pick and roll didn’t bare much fruit as San Miguel was just too quick in swinging that ball around to the open shooter, usually in the corners. It also helped that Alaska kept making the mistake of helping off Lassiter, which led to his two clutch threes. And despite the number of outside shots they attempted, they balanced that out a bit with more trips to the line. I’m sure Austria is happy with his wards able to score more than 110 points per 100 possessions on an Alaska team that limited opponents to just 98 per 100 in the playoffs.
It wasn’t all good for the Beermen of course. For one, they lost the rebounding battle handily (42-48). Alaska grabbed 53.4% of the total rebounds compared to San Miguel’s 46.6%, both numbers in line with their playoff averages. Even though they successfully boxed Fajardo out for much of the night, he still had 14. The key here was that Reid and Arwind Santos only had a combined seven. Alaska also beat them up on the offensive glass leading to a 15-5 edge in second chance points. Fajardo’s gonna need the help down low especially with how many players he has to contend with.
Their interior defense was also pretty bad, allowing 54 points in the paint, compared to just 26 in the previous encounter. Alaska made a concerted effort to get easier looks closer to the baskets. They did so with a steady dose of pick and rolls and post play. San Miguel’s defensive awareness wasn’t up to par as an Ace would routinely find himself open under the basket due to either a double team by the Beermen or a backdoor cut. San Miguel has to communicate better and rotate accordingly, especially in helping the helper (usually Fajardo).
Arizona Reid seemed like he had a point to prove with his game-high 37 points, seven assists, five steals, and four triples. Once again, his effort on both ends was fantastic. He shot very well from the field (58.7 TS%) despite having to force some of his shots due to San Miguel’s lull offensively, thanks to his three-pointers and trips to the line. His passing was really impressive as he had an assist rate of 37.8%, expertly kicking out of double teams to find the open man. But it was his defense on Travis that was really noteworthy. Coming into the series, the storylines were about his volume shooting versus Travis’ efficiency. Well, Reid held him to just 31.8 eFG%. He played tough post defense and had a hand up on jumpers. Even with all of that, he still had the second win to help his team steal the victory. He has really come around after his rocky start to the playoffs. The only concern is his health, specifically his right hamstring, and his stamina. Luckily, they get a two-day rest.
The Usual Suspects
June Mar Fajardo bucked a slow start to tow his team. After a paltry three-point, five-rebound first half performance, he bounced back with 13 and nine in the second half for a total of 17 and 14. He also added four blocks for good measure. He only had four shot attempts due to Alaska’s tough denial defense on him, but he made up for it by getting to the line a lot. He went there 14 times and connected on 10 of them, including four in the final minute. His duel with Sonny Thoss was fun to watch but he’ll have to find ways to be effective guarding him one on one.
Marcio Lassiter was named Best Player of the Game and it’s pretty obvious why. He had 17 markers, five triples (two in the clutch, and even added seven boards, three dimes, and two steals. He certainly showed why he was third in the BPC race. His confidence on both ends, especially in those threes are at an all-time high. He was so good that Austria and Hontiveros called him the best shooter in the PBA. Hontiveros took it a step further and called him the best two-way guard in the league and a better version of himself. That is high praise coming from an all-time legend. Judging from his playoff performance though, you can understand why.
Chris Lutz and Alex Cabagnot rounded out the group. Lutz built on his Game One performance. He didn’t score as much (five points) but he contributed in one area he always excelled at: passing the ball. He tied Reid with a team-high seven assists and actually assisted on 47.8% of his team’s field goals. Again, Austria’s decision to start him in Game One has paid dividends as he is starting to resemble the Lutz fans are more familiar with. Ever since the semifinals, things suddenly started to click for Cabagnot. He’s always been a dynamic point guard and was just caught up with trying to score every time. In addition to his shooting, he’s always showed the ability to bully his way to the rim, grab boards, and facilitate. It’s all coming together for him as he is such a threat handling the ball. That was the case here with his 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists. He has been the maestro of this offense and has been fully in control.
Compton and the Aces threw everything they could at this team but San Miguel just did not quit. Even down nine near the end of the game, there wasn’t any finger-pointing or slumped shoulders. They just played on, trusted their coach, trusted the system, and trusted each other to pull through. This couldn’t have been said about them a year ago. For their efforts, they finally get more than a day’s worth of rest and time to prepare for what should be an even tougher response on Wednesday. For now, they can enjoy the fact that their poise and composure combined with their on-court play has reminded everyone why they should #FearTheBeer.
Featured Image Credit: Pranz Kaeno Billones, Sports5