Manila, Philippines – Mobbed every time he made a move inside, San Miguel Beer center June Mar Fajardo found a place that was a little less crowded – the free throw line.
Fajardo made his presence felt from that spot last night, going 11 for 11 as the Beermen turned back the defense-fueled Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters, 87-81, to take a 2-0 lead in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Game 3 is at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the MOA Arena, with SMB looking to put TNT in a historically insurmountable 3-0 hole.
After getting creamed in the opener of the best-of-7 series, the Texters were determined to eliminate Fajardo from the equation by making life hellish in the paint and forcing him to give up the ball. And they did, inducing the big fellow to miss 9 of his 11 field goal attempts and commit 3 turnovers off passes.
But the 6-foot-10 Fajardo, nimble for his size and blessed with soft hands, made TNT pay for giving him a hard time, going perfect from the line in 11 charities, with 6 coming in the last 4 minutes.
He swished in his last 2 freebies with 37 seconds remaining after TNT launched and missed 3 consecutive 3-point shots, giving SMB an 86-81 lead.
Alex Cabagnot led SMB with 21 points as the Beermen continued to reap the benefits of a pre-semis trade with Globalport between the hot-shooting playmaker and slasher Sol Mercado.
Fajardo added 15 points, down from his 23-point production two days ago, but he had 12 rebounds after snaring 10 that night. Chris Lutz put in 14 and all-evening aggressiveness while Arwind Santos settled for a quiet 10 points. Marcio Lassiter hit back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter to negate a pair of treys from Jayson Castro earlier as SMB used a 7-1 surge to break a 71-all tie and pull ahead.
SMB was 25 of 28 from the line; TNT 12 of 24 with 22 missed 3-pointers.
“We were fortunate to snag this one,” said SMB coach Leo Austria. “Their level of offense and defense was really different. They triple-teamed June Mar kaya he committed a lot of turnovers. But our team didn’t give up and we kept our composure.”
The Tropang Texters trailed 41-40 at the break but not after fighting back from two double-digit deficits in each of the first two quarters in denying the Beermen another breakaway as in the opener Friday.
That evening, after trailing 27-20 after the first 12 minutes of Game 1, SMB torched TNT, 33-9, in the second quarter en route to a 109-86 victory.
Fajardo saw double- and triple-teams more frequently this time, getting held down to 1 of 7 from the floor in the first 24 minutes. But SMB kept TNT at bay with its outside shooting as Cabagnot hit three 3-pointers and Santos two.
The Beermen were 7 of 11 from rainbow territory at one point when they opened a 30-19 advantage early in the second period after a Ronald Tubid trey.
Castro, the trigger of TNT’s dribble-drive offense, had 12 points in the first half to keep the Texters within striking distance, eclipsing in 24 minutes his six-point output in Game 1.
Meanwhile, Rain or Shine shoots for a momentum-swinging Game 3 win over Alaska at 7 p.m. tonight at the MOA Arena.
Their series is tied, 1-1, with the Aces taking the opener, 87-80, and the Elasto Painters leveling last Saturday, 102-95.
In both games, ROS raced to big first half leads, with Alaska having to come back from 17 points down the first time out. The E-Painters made sure the Aces won’t pull off a similar feat in Game 2 however as they sustained a blistering pace throughout before cooling off near the end.
SAN MIGUEL BEER 87 – Cabagnot 21, Fajardo 15, Lutz 14, Santos 10, Lassiter 8, Tubid 7, Fortuna 5, Pascual 3, Maierhofer 2, Ross 2, Kramer 0, Omolon 0, Chua 0, Semerad 0.
TALK N’ TEXT 81 – Castro 26, Washington 17, Rosser 11, De Ocampo 10, Carey 6, Fonacier 4, Aban 3, Williams 2, Seigle 2, Alapag 0, Alas 0, Reyes R.J. 0, Reyes R. 0, Espiritu 0.
Quarters: 25-19, 41-40, 63-61, 87-81