The San Miguel Beermen are back in the finals of the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup, but they may have paid the ultimate price in their quest to defend the crown they won in dramatic fashion last season.
San Miguel lost back-to-back MVP June Mar Fajardo to a knee injury early in the third quarter of Game 6 last night but never wavered in its mission to put away Rain or Shine, 90-82, and close out their tumultuous best-of-7 semifinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
SMB’s 4-2 victory set up a dream championship rematch with the Alaska Aces, with Game 1 of the best-of-7 Finals tomorrow at 5 p.m. The Beermen beat the Aces in Game 7 the last time out on a buzzer-beating three-point shot by Arwind Santos.
Fajardo, whose inside dominance and double-double figures were the key to SMB taking a 3-2 lead in the series, crumbled to the floor in agony after colliding with ROS forward Jireh Ibanes during a rebound play four minutes into the second half and the Beermen trailing, 52-47.
The 6-foot-10 center, also the main man for Tab Baldwin’s Gilas Pilipinas, clutched his left in pain before getting wheeled out on a gurney and rushed to the hospital. No official word has yet been released by SMB management on Fajardo’s condition, but team insiders said a torn ligament is not being discounted because the player reportedly heard a pop after his knee buckled from under him.
In Fajardo’s absence, Marcio Lassiter and Santos picked up the scoring cudgels for the Beermen, with Lassiter finishing with 22 points despite going 1-of-9 from 3-point range, while Santos added 15 with three triples.
Santos later offered the series-clinching to their fallen teammate.
“Talagang nag-worry kami nong na-injure siya at inaalay namin ang panalong ito kay June Mar,” said Santos. “Sana hindi gaanong malala ung injury niya at makalaro siya against Alaska.”
SMB outscored RoS, 33-17, in the third quarter. But two free throws by Beau Belga with 31 seconds left pushed the Elasto Painters, who were without an injured Paul Lee, within, 86-82, before Chris Ross, a thorn in RoS’ side all series long, hit two charities and Lassiter scored on a fast break layup after.
Facing a team which seemed to show little interest at putting away an opponent on the ropes, the E-Painters twice led by 15 points in the second quarter in taking a 46-37 advantage at the half.
With assistant coach Caloy Garcia stepping in for head mentor Yeng Guiao, who got snared in traffic on the way to the game, ROS strung 12 straight points to start the first four minutes of the second quarter to erase a 19-16 first period deficit, 28-19.
Lethargic SMB went 0-of-4 from the floor with five turnovers during that stretch before Arwind Santos broke the spell with a jumper with 8:38 left, around the same time Guiao joined the E-Painters on the bench, staring up at the giant scoreboard with a clear look of disbelief on his face.
Guiao allowed Garcia to call the shots for a few more minutes before taking over the reins shortly after Jewel Ponfereda, who ran rings around SMB center June Mar Fajardo with 12 points, gave ROS its first 15-point spread, 41-26, with four minutes left in the first half.
SAN MIGUEL 90 – Lassiter 22, Santos 15, Fajardo 14, Espinas 9, Ross 8, Cabagnot 6, Tubid 6, Arana 4, De Ocampo 4, Lutz 2.
RAIN OR SHINE 82 – Belga 16, Norwood 14, Ponferada 14, Chan 11, Ibanes 10, Cruz 6, Ahanmisi 5, Quinahan 4, Trollano 2, Tiu 0.
Quarters: 19-16, 37-46, 70-63, 90-82.