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PBA: SMB sweeps TNT

Junemar Fajardo

Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
5 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Alaska

Manila, Philippines – Hard to imagine June Mar Fajardo as Harry Potter. Nonetheless, the 6-foot-10 San Miguel Beer center is off to the PBA Philippine Cup Finals riding a broomstick.

Bringing the full weight of its awesome armory to Game 4, San Miguel, behind its powerful big fella, swept Talk ‘N Text in their semifinal series last night, 100-87, to advance to its 34th championship at the Mall of Asia Arena.

SMB, which last won the Philippine Cup in 2001 when TNT coach Jong Uichico was still calling the shots, will be up against the winner of the extremely physical best-of-7 semis between Alaska and Rain or Shine, now tied at 2-all.

Before a post-Christmas Day crowd that was left stunned by SMB’s offensive display, the Beermen took control in the second quarter and then overwhelmed the Tropang Texters in the third before coasting in the end.

Fajardo, the reigning Most Valuable Player, made a strong case for a potential back-to-back individual award at season’s end by scoring 28 points on 12 of 17 from the floor with 16 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocked shots.

He had 9 turnovers, but even Harry Potter had initial trouble keeping his balance atop the Nimbus 2000.

Double-teamed all evening long, Fajardo struggled at the start to beat the incoming defender and spot open teammates as much as TNT’s defense allowed it, committing errors in the process. In the end though, he finally mastered the trick.

Alex Cabagnot, whose addition to SMB in a pre-semis trade was a big factor to Fajardo’s dominance inside, added 16 points (5 of 7) coming off the bench, while Chris Lutz added 15 and Arwind Santos 13 with 10 rebounds, his hanging dunk at the buzzer providing the final snapshot to the Beermen’s sweeping statement.

The Tropang Texters, disadvantaged by the absence of a big man who could challenge Fajardo one-on-one, paid the price for its double-teaming defense and eventually succumbed to the exhausting effects of a grueling quarterfinal playoffs and the demands going up against a semis opponent which had 10 days of rest.

“We never thought a sweep was possible at the start of the series,” said SMB coach Leo Austria. “This is a credit to the players’ willingness to work hard and their desire to win. We’ll be taking a two-day break, enjoy the moment for a while, and then go back to work to define their roles.”

Even as he declined to choose between Rain or Shine and Alaska for a finals opponent, Austria said the faster they put behind the 4-0 sweep against TNT, the better it would be for them.

“The Finals is completely different. Lahat ng stats from the semis, isasantabi mo na yan pag dating ng championship,” he said.

Jimmy Alapag led Talk ‘N Text with 17 points in his finest performance this conference.