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SMB eyes equalizer

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Game Today
(Smart Araneta)
7 p.m. – Alaska vs San Miguel

After losing Game 1 Sunday, San Miguel coach Leo Austria said all the right things pertaining to the well-being of his injured star June Mar Fajardo. Now the Beermen get to pick between two hard choices: follow their hearts or listen to reason.

The second entails waiting for the green light from doctors and then suiting up Fajardo – if he gets the go signal – for Game 2 today, or Game 3 on Friday, to save them from falling into a hole too deep to climb from in the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup Finals against the Alaska Aces.

The first alternative, inevitably, will put in jeopardy their quest to defend the PH Cup title by sitting the back-to-back MVP winner, who hurt his left knee in Game 6 of SMB’s semifinal series with Rain or Shine last week, and providing him with all the therapy and rest he needs to properly heal.

For Fajardo, that would mean spending the remainder of the best-of-7 series on the bench – even though the pain in his knee may be tolerable and no ligaments are torn – or at home, his leg immobilized while watching in torment as the Aces slowly carve out a revenge-filled coup de grace in the succeeding games.

And for the anguished Beermen, that could be tantamount to foregoing their bid for a third championship in four conferences and to denying Alaska its moment of glory after the heartbreak of last season.

So where lies SMB’s preference?

Austria offered a slice of his thoughts.

“Although his MRI showed everything in his knee is intact and there’s no need for any surgery, if June Mar is not 100 percent, I don’t want him to play para di ma-aggravate yung kanyang injury,” he said after Alaska ran Yancy de Ocampo ragged and shut down Arwind Santos in a 100-91 victory in the finals opener.”

PBA chairman and SMB governor Robert Non seems to share the sentiment.

“Of course we are thinking long term,” he said inside the locker room before Game 1. “But we’ll see what the doctors will say first.”

Doubtless, San Miguel will go down fighting even without Fajardo. The Beermen could even spring some surprises if their outside shooters, especially Santos who was 2 of 11 two nights ago, simultaneously turn hot and they succeed in keeping Alaska off the boards, if it’s possible, during critical times in Game 2 at 7 tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

But the Aces have hit upon a winning formula in going small ball in Game 1 and letting forwards Vic Manuel and Calvin Abueva have their way against SMB’s porous defense which was bereft of the big fella protecting the rim as a last line of resistance and providing a safety net for the Beermen gunners, and that strategy will continue to be mercilessly exploited.

Fajardo’s actual condition continues to be shrouded in mystery, with team officials contradicting statements reportedly made by an SMC doctor that MRI tests showed partial tear of the ligaments.

“No such thing,” said SMB team manager Gee Abanilla. “Negative for torn ligaments in his ACL and MCL.”

Austria let on, however, that Fajardo’s knee remains slightly swollen, making him a day-to-day proposition in the series.