3 p.m. – Phoenix vs Meralco
5:15 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Brgy. Ginebra San Miguel
Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beer is off to something ominously similar from last season.
Debuting in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup after their history-setting title victory in the previous conference, the sluggish Beermen displayed the early symptoms of post-championship malaise as they fell to the torrid-shooting Mahindra Enforcers, 102-96, at the the Alonte Sports Arena in Biñan, Laguna.
Aldrech Ramos torched SMB with 6-of-7 three-point shots on the way to 26 points coming off the bench, while LA Revilla added 19, and import Augustus Gilchrist and red-hot KG Cañaleta 15 points each.
Ramos shredded the Beermen’s zone by burying four straight 3-pointers at the start of the second quarter as the Enforcers opened a nine-point lead which they hung on to until briefly with four minutes remaining. Then Cañaleta took over.
A day after the Alaska Aces, SMB’s blood rivals in three of the last four conference finals, including the recent Philippine Cup championship, lost is first game to the Blackwater Elite, the Beermen immediately went the same way.
Notwithstanding SMB coach Leo Austria’s repeated pronouncements that have learned their lesson well after failing to wrestle with the negative effects of euphoria and celebration in the aftermath of their dramatic Game 7 victory in last season’s Philippine Cup finals, the Beermen took the first step down a familiar road.
They had lost their first four games in the ensuing Commissioner’s Cup on the way to missing the playoffs and a shot at Grand Slam II last year, and Mahindra has now pointed the Beermen in that direction.
A 13-3 run keyed by Revilla in the third quarter gave Mahindra a 72-61 advantage. Ramos kept the lead at 82-76 with his sixth triple with 7:33 left in the fourth before the Beermen showed interest, putting together a 10-2 spurt in two minutes to take the upper hand, 86-84, on Arwind Santos’ free throws.
But it proved to be a short-lived gasp. Cañaleta, a subject of trade rumors before the conference, caught fire and drained three consecutive 3-pointers to turn back SMB, 93-86. Revilla, who survived getting accidentally poked in the right eye by SMB import Tyler Wilkerson, then towed the Enforcers away to safety with a 3-point play and 1 of 2 free throws.
“A very tough game for us coming from a loss,” said Mahindra coach Chito Victolero. “But we survived with our mental toughness in the end. KG just stepped up in the fourth quarter.”
SMB gave up nine points off 28 turnovers and was outrebounded, 49-42, including 20-10 under the offensive glass.
Wilkerson had 29 points and 12 rebounds, but June Mar Fajardo, who played just 23 minutes, took only four shots and finished with eight points and four rebounds.
Meanwhile, league-leader Meralco stakes its 3-0 slate when it takes on newcomer Phoenix Petroluem today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum while Rain or Shine is set to parade a replacement import for Wayne Chism against winless Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
The Bolts and the Fuel Masters, made up of the former Barako Bull Energy which the oil company purchased lock, stock and barrel last month, clash at 3 p.m. followed by the potentially explosive Elasto Painters-Kings encounter at 5:15 p.m.
Meralco dodged the bullet against Rain or Shine last Wednesday, blowing a 26-point lead before pulling off a 98-95 win to an opponent that lost its import early. Chism suffered a partial hamstring tear in his left thigh while driving to the basket early in the third quarter, forcing the Elasto Painters to hurriedly dial for an immediate reinforcement.
Against 0-2 Barangay Ginebra and Othyus Jeffers, RoS will field in Antoine Dominick Wright, a 6-foot-7, 215-lb guard-forward from Texas A&M and a first round draft pick of the New Jersey Nets, with stints in Dallas, Toronto and Sacramento.
The Bolts will serve as the Fuel Masters’ first acid test after Phoenix debuted last Wednesday by routing the smug NLEX Road Warriors, 118-106. NLEX was coming off a 114-112 overtime win over Barangay Ginebra and veteran center Asi Taulava suggested they may have a little complacent.
MAHINDRA 102 – Ramos 26, Revilla 19, Cañaleta 15, Gilchrist 15, Dehesa 10, Guinto 9, Digregorio 4, Pinto 2, Yee 2, Webb 0, Jaime 0.
SAN MIGUEL 96 – Wilkerson 29, Santos 17, Lassiter 14, Araña 8, Fajardo 8, Ross 8, Heruela 5, Tubid 4, Espinas 3, Lutz 0, Reyes 0.
Quarters: 24-23; 51-45; 74-69; 102-96