San Miguel Beer (SMB) is close to being just the second team in the Philippine Basketball Association’s (PBA) history to win the Philippine Cup (All-Filipino Conference) three times in a row, after Talk N’ Text. As of this writing, the Beermen lead the best-of-seven finale 3-1 over sister team Barangay Ginebra Kings. With three-time MVP and five-time Best Player of the Conference winner June Mar Fajardo heading its frontline, SMB has dominated the Philippine Cup in the last two seasons. Now the Beermen are on the verge of making history, and getting the privilege of permanently keeping the “Perpetual Trophy” called the Jun Bernardino trophy, in honor of the late former PBA commissioner.
Game 3 was a clear indication of the Beermen’s determination to achieve this feat. From the get-go, they showed fire in their eyes, shooting the lights out with a perfect 6-of-6 three-point artillery that posted a quick 20-2 lead. They went on to convert a total of 15 treys throughout the game, making it extremely hard for the Kings to catch up. It didn’t help Ginebra’s cause that the Kings only managed to nail 5-of-22 triples. At one point, SMB led by as many 26 markers. It was a total team effort for the Beermen as several contributed to this hot shooting spree.
The Kings made a last ditch stand in the payoff period, managing to trim the deficit to single digits in the final few minutes. But Fajardo went to work, scoring under the basket, and drilling free throws. Alex Cabagnot also made huge outside jumpers that dosed cold water on Ginebra’s repeated comeback attempt. Not even the great Tim Cone could do anything to stymie the Beermen’s charge.
SMB settled with the 95-84 triumph. Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter both finished with 20 points each, while Cabagnot, Chris Ross and Arwind Santos added a combined 38 points. Ross was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.
When the Beermen are shooting this well, they become a double-edged sword that’s lethal for any team including the crowd darling Kings. It used to be “stop Fajardo, stop San Miguel.” But if four or five guys are shooting this great, putting the clamps on the Cebuano behemoth won’t do much good. And if you don’t double on Fajardo at the post, it’s automatic two points for the 6’10” powerhouse.
This puts even the PBA’s winningest hoops tactician in a quandary. You can only hope the Beermen don’t shoot this well, or that your team shoots better. Surely, the consensus is that Ginebra should impose its will defensively on SMB. But that’s easier said than done. A defensive game could favor Ginebra. But when you got guys like Gabby Espinas, Yancy De Ocampo and Ronald Tubid also doing some damage with their offense, there’s very little any team could do. Compounding Ginebra’s woes is the lackluster performance of some of its top guns. Mark Caguioa and Sol Mercado, two of Ginebra’s spitfires, could only come up with a total of nine markers. The others were also below expectations, like LA Tenorio’s 12, Japeth Aguilar’s 12, and Scottie Thompson’s seven. Joe Devance was the lone silver lining with 22.
All’s not lost yet for Ginebra. But it will take a really exemplary game from the Kings to keep SMB at bay. Plus a little bit of luck. I still think the Kings must not only outwork the Beermen but also truly step on the gas. If Tenorio, Devance, Mercado, Aguilar and Thompson can get their game going, plus some assistance from Kevin Ferrer, Chris Ellis, Caguioa and Jervy Cruz, pushing the finals into a Game 7 wouldn’t be so far fetched. They also need to put on the pressure defensively and not allow the Beermen to get to their rhythm. Just take it one game at a time.
For the moment, SMB has its eyes set on achieving greatness. If the Beermen play the way they did again in Game 4, it could be curtains soon. My prediction is that they will get it in Game 6.