After a lengthy two-week break, the San Miguel Beermen finally get back on the court to start their much awaited finals match-up with the Alaska Aces. In sharp contrast to their semifinal series against the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters, this one figures to be an ugly, physical, low-scoring affair as the top two defensive teams face off (both teams only allowed 90.4 points per 100 possessions during the eliminations). The last time these two met, San Miguel was limited to their lowest scoring output, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage, which led to the first of their two losses this conference. Of course, that was only the fourth game of the season and a lot has changed for both squads. This figures to be a close and exciting series.
Though they are top defensive teams, they do so in very different ways. Alaska relies a lot on their full-court pressure. They used it to great effect as they were second in the league in forcing turnovers, fourth in fast break points, and fifth in turnover points in the elimination round. San Miguel’s top priority will be breaking that press. This is where their last-minute acquisition of Alex Cabagnot comes into play. He’s a much better ball handler that can dribble himself out of pressure. They also have the luxury of playing three guards at all times to help bring the ball down if needed. They definitely have the tools to do it but the question is if they can execute.
On the Beermen’s side, their strength lies in locking down the paint. What made them so successful against Talk ‘N Text was that they were able to contest almost every three-point attempt, forcing the Texters to try and shoot over their bigs. With June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, and Rico Maierhofer patrolling the paint, they will have to do the same, especially against JVee Casio and Dondon Hontiveros who can get hot in a hurry. One area they struggled however was containing the offensive boards. Matt Ganuelas-Rosser in particular gave them trouble with his length and activity. It won’t get any easier for them as the combination of Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel (and Gabby Espinas if healthy) will be hell, especially for Santos. He has struggled with guys more athletic or bigger than him so far and all three Alaska PFs can take advantage of his weaknesses. All eyes will be on him if he can sustain his solid play, especially on the defensive end.
Offensively, they have to stick to the same gameplan of working it inside-out; get Fajardo the ball, spread the floor, and feed off the inevitable double/triple teams. Unlike the Texters moonlighting PFs as Cs, Fajardo will face a bevy of legit centers this time around with the strength and experience of Sonny Thoss and Eric Menk as well as the height and speed of James Sena. It looks to be a much tougher assignment for the bigman but he’ll have to power through it get that elusive first championship.
With the series chock-full of narratives (most notably: two first-time coaches, mentor versus mentee, battle of four BPC candidates), it all boils down to the first game. Alaska definitely has a bit of a psychological and momentum advantage but San Miguel has had a ton of time to rest, recover, and prepare. It will be a much tougher opener than the one they had in the semis but I can see them taking this one, stamping their advantage in the interior and starting of their series for redemption with a statement win.
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TIME: 7:00 PM
ARENA: SMART-ARANETA COLISEUM
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ryan Tan, Sports5