(Quezon Convention Center, Lucena City)
7 p.m. – SMB vs. Alaska
San Miguel’s overdependence on June Mar Fajardo in the elimination and the semis may have carried the Beermen to the championship series. But the same overreliance could be why they are staring at a 2-0 deficit against the Alaska Aces in the eye.
Unless the Beermen put behind them all talks of how things would have been different had the back-to-back MVP been around to brush off Vic Manuel and Calvin Abueva and to haul in misguided three-pointers by Marcio Lassiter, Ronald Tubid, Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos, they could soon find themselves in a 3-0 hole from which only six out of 43 condemned teams have come out from.
Game 3 is tomorrow at the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City, with the Aces, older and wiser after surviving SMB’s onslaught and a hail of disputed calls that went against them in Game 2, looking to tighten the noose around the gasping defending champion.
Fajardo hurt his left knee in the series-clinching Game 6 of its semifinal showdown with Rain or Shine and sat out Games One (100-91) and Two (83-80) of the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup Finals. The 6-foot-10 center was apparently too sore to even hobble into the Smart Araneta Coliseum to provide morale support to his embattled teammates who have grown so accustomed to having the Big Fella watching their backs that they seemed in serious quandary now that he isn’t around to bail them out.
SMB coach Leo Austria polished and shined the creaking Yancy de Ocampo and rolled him out to play Fajardo’s part, and for stretches lasting more than three quarters in the first two games of the best-of-7 series, the 6-foot-9 outside shooting center had courageously done so.
But too many long nights on the bench, warming his seat, have dulled somewhat De Ocampo’s sharpness and taken away from his fighting spirit and confidence.
He did battle Sonny Thoss on equal terms last Wednesday and fought off the forays of Abueva and Manuel whenever they wandered near his territory. But come crunch time when the game was on the line and he had to deliver big time, De Ocampo, either from exhaustion or the hugeness of the moment, faltered, missing two important free throws that would have given SMB the lead in the closing seconds and having a weak putback swatted away by Manuel.
Similarly, the Beermen gunners appeared to have lost their hair-trigger mentality with Fajardo nowhere near the basket, too conscious perhaps that a miss would now most likely end up in the hands of the Aces and trigger a roaring fast break that has all the rage and force to run them under.
SMB coach Leo Austria has talked about the possibility of “sacrificing the championship to give Fajardo enough time to heal.”
Said Austria: “I will not prolong his injury by asking him to play if he isn’t a hundred percent. I will not risk aggravating his condition because there are more championships in the future.”
So who will the Beermen call upon in Fajardo’s absence?
“Nobody’s giving up,” said Austria. “Not me, not the rest of the team. Even if we’re down 0-2, may chances pa rin kami.”
Alaska coach Alex Compton heard that loud and clear and believes they haven’t heard the last of the Beermen either.
“San Miguel has done a fantastic job in both games and we were really just fortunate to come out with a win,” he said.
“That’s the thing with a San Miguel team that’s coached by a class act and winner in coach Leo because they don’t give up. Sasabihin na dehado sila (without Fajardo)… I don’t think dehado sila. That’s a team of winners, a team of great players, and they play down the stretch. It’s just that their shots didn’t fall and we got a couple to fall.”