Turnaround for San Miguel
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2019 - 12:00am

There were major adjustments that San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria made in bowling over Magnolia, 114-98, in Game 4 of the PBA Philippine Cup best-of-7 Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Wednesday night. Now that the series is tied, 2-all, it’s the Hotshots’ turn to reverse gears in Game 5, also at the Big Dome, tonight.

In Game 4, San Miguel dictated the tempo from the start and didn’t allow Magnolia to set the terms of engagement with its defense. Before Wednesday’s battle, Magnolia had won two games in the Finals holding San Miguel to an average of 88 points and in the Beermen’s only win in the second meeting, the Hotshots gave up 108. Entering Game 4, Magnolia was No. 1 in points given up, 85.3, and field goal percentage allowed, 38.1, all conference long.

Austria knew San Miguel had to win Game 4 or else. Going down 3-1 in the series would’ve been too deep a hole to crawl out of. In Game 3 which Magnolia won, 86-82, the Beermen were badly outrebounded, 71-46 and five-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, who averaged 22.1 points in the eliminations, was held to 17. Magnolia also had more assists, 19-15, as Alex Cabagnot finished with none and Terrence Romeo with one, exposing Hotshots coach Chito Victolero’s focus to limit San Miguel’s ball movement. Austria reversed the trends in Game 4.

San Miguel accomplished several firsts in Game 4 – things the Beermen hadn’t done in the previous three encounters, resulting in the resounding win. First, Christian Standhardinger logged 28:29 minutes and Fajardo 32:07 as Austria finally found a way to maximize their partnership on the court. In the first three contests, Standhardinger averaged 16:25 minutes and Fajardo, 36:41. Second, San Miguel shot 51.8 percent from the field, the first time in the series that the Beermen hit at least 50 percent – cracking Magnolia’s vaunted defensive armor. Third, San Miguel scored more points in the paint, 56-38 after the Hotshots dominated this statistic from Game 1. Fourth, San Miguel had more bench points, 39-24. Before Game 4, Magnolia averaged 36.7 bench points and the Beermen, 26. Fifth, San Miguel improved its shot selection, attacking the basket more for higher percentage attempts than jacking up three-pointers. The Beermen took 58 two-pointers and only 25 triples for a 70-30 ratio. In the first three contests, San Miguel’s ratio was 52-48 as the Beermen averaged 40.3 triple and 43.7 two-point tries. 

Sixth, San Miguel converted at least 40 field goals when the Beermen connected only 32 in Game 1, 35 in Game 2 and 28 in Game 3. In Game 4, San Miguel hit 43-of-83 field goals. And lastly, San Miguel attempted 58 two-point field goals compared to averaging 43.7 in the first three games. 

San Miguel worked its magic back in the fray with Cabagnot and Romeo dishing five dimes each. Fajardo was unstoppable with 31 points on 13-of-14 field goals and 5-of-6 free throws and even as the Kraken dominated the offense, five other Beermen scored in double figures – Romeo with 18, Chris Ross 15, Standhardinger 13, Arwind Santos 12 and Cabagnot 11. Instead of sitting at the low post waiting for the entry pass and being predictable, Fajardo was actively involved in screen-rolls, making it more difficult for Magnolia to throw a double or deny. 

Magnolia will make adjustments in Game 5 for sure. In Games 3 and 4, Victolero started with a small lineup, bringing out Justin Melton, Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon. The trick worked in Game 3 but not in Game 4 as San Miguel prepared to crank it up inside against a shorter alignment. In Game 5, Paul Lee will probably return as a starter. It’s vital for Lee to get his rhythm early. In Game 4, he came off the bench and scored only seven points, all in the third period. Rafi Reavis wasn’t as productive in Game 4 as in Game 3 where he produced 16 points and 15 rebounds. At 41, Reavis has to pace himself and preserve his energy for critical moments in a game, especially since he’s Fajardo’s primary defender. He’ll have to do much more in Game 5 than in Game 4.

Magnolia made the tactical mistake of engaging San Miguel in a high-scoring shootout in Game 4. The lowest San Miguel scored in a quarter last Wednesday was 25 in the first period. For Magnolia to win, the Hotshots should try to limit San Miguel to 20 or less every quarter and make it a defense-oriented, low-scoring contest. San Miguel regained its bearings in Game 4. Will Magnolia do the same in Game 5?

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