‘Heart of a Champion’: How San Miguel made its comeback in Game 1
MANILA, Philippines – After the absurdity of what took place on Tuesday, January 5, at the Mall of Asia Arena, Ronald Tubid sat down with PBA courtside reporter Rizza Diaz and talked about the usual sports tidbits fans want to hear: guts, glory, heart, pride.
“Let’s show our heart of a champion,” Tubid, the best player of the game, recalled in Filipino of what he told his San Miguel teammates at halftime of a game they trailed by 20 in the fourth quarter.
“I said let’s grind.”
San Miguel erased Rain or Shine’s lead in less than 12 minutes and escaped with a Game 1 win that’s going to sting for Yeng Guiao and company quite some time.
A best-of-7 series isn’t decided in one game, but if Rain or Shine fails to make the finals – thanks to San Miguel, again – they’re going to look back at the series opener and point to that as where everything changed.
Draw first blood, and the Elasto Painters put the defending champions in an essential must-win Game 2 two days later. Instead, it’s the opposite, and memories of Rain or Shine’s colossal meltdown may stay at the back of their minds the rest of the way.
Tubid is right: San Miguel showed its heart of a champion, however the team denotes that. But read the Xs and Os, and you’ll realize there were a couple of things that translated to the biggest comeback win so far this PBA season.
Let’s get to it.
I noted in my semifinals preview for this series that the team which can connect from outside better will advance, given how big a role the 3-pointer plays in their offensive attacks.
San Miguel finished 10-of-31 from downtown while Rain or Shine hit 9-of-27, but it was clear which club hit the bigger 3-balls when they counted most.
The Beermen, who were firing blanks the first 3 quarters and at one point were 4-of-16 (25%), hit 6 shots from deep in the final quarter while the Elasto Painters went 2-of-7. Tubid was responsible for 3 of those, in addition to his incredible defense.
Tubid, a career 33% 3-point shooter, hit his first 3-ball with 10:30 to go thanks to this play:
As you can see above, San Miguel back-up guard Brian Heruela attacks his defender and gets a step on him, forcing Tubid’s man – Maverick Ahanmisi – to provide help defense and prevent a lane to the rim.
Heruela is both a good passer plus has a wide body, and he takes advantage of both by dishing it out to the open Tubid while screening Ahanmisi, who can’t get back to his original man in time:
The result: Tubid hits the 3, cutting the lead to 17.
A few plays later, this takes place. Notice how in the image below, all 5 Rain or Shine players are under the free throw line as Tubid is trapped between his man and the baseline.
There are only 6 seconds left on the shot clock, which means Tubid has to get a shot off quickly or pass it to someone who can put up an attempt in time.
Rain or Shine anticipates the coming shot, but given how dominant Fajardo was on the glass during Game 1, the Elasto Painters knew they had to gang rebound to avoid giving up an offensive board.
Tubid then swings the ball out to Arwind Santos, who finished with 3 3-pointers, and made this one despite a late attempt to contest by Lee:
Suddenly, the lead is down to 14 and San Miguel has hit two 3-balls, so the floor starts to space a bit more for Fajardo to operate more freely inside with less double-teams. The two-time reigning MVP finished with 36 points and 18 rebounds while Santos posted 19 points, 17 boards, and 5 assists.
But the Beermen wouldn’t have started the comeback without the defensive pressure by Tubid and Chris Ross.
The reason why Rain or Shine was so dominant in the first half – where they scored a league-high 68 points this conference – was because of how superb they looked in the pick and roll.
San Miguel coach Leo Austria kept having Fajardo go up near the free throw line to avoid giving up an easy jumper to Rain or Shine’s guards after they got free thanks to the screen, but that allowed other Elasto Painters – like the screener – to cut to the rim and get easy baskets.
During the possessions Fajardo stayed under the rim and another SMB guard would rotate to contain the ball-handler, Rain or Shine kept moving the ball until it found the open shooter. That’s why Chris Tiu had 10 points in the first half.
But thanks to Ross and Tubid, both of whom have reputations as pesky defenders, Rain or Shine had a more difficult time running PNRs due to the duo’s on-ball pressure defense. Every time an Elasto Painters guard crossed the half-court line, Ross was already up in his grill, trying to come up with steals:
Ross finished with a career-high 7 takeaways, most coming in the fourth period which led to easy scoring opportunities that trimmed the lead and turned momentum his team’s side.
Another key event that proved detrimental in the fourth period took place with 6:09 left as Raymond Almazan fouled out when he tried defending this Fajardo basket:
The former NCAA MVP finished the game with only 8 points and 4 boards, but his ability to roll to the rim – a key aspect in spacing the floor – is very important for Rain or Shine. Plus on defense, he provides some rim protection as well. With his absence, the Elasto Painters didn’t have that guy cutting to the rim enough the rest of their way, making their offense less dangerous.
After Fajardo completed the and-one play, that’s when momentum had shifted to the Beermen’s side. Their crowd was more rowdy, Rain or Shine’s offense sets began to be less precise, and you started to get that feeling the game was about to be even closer.
Thanks to Ronald Tubid, who came into the game going just 8-of-37 from outside in the elimination round, it was eventually tied.
On this play below, Gabe Norwood played spectacular defense on Tubid. He just made one hell of an isolation shot:
The next Tubid triple was thanks to him getting open after some lazy Rain or Shine defense.
In this first sequence, all 5 Rain or Shine guys are again under the free throw line watching Fajardo, who has the ball and realizes he’s about to face a wall of Elasto Painters. The big man has many options here: get it to Tubid who just cut in the paint (but risk the steal), or kick it out to the 3 shooters spreading the floor:
Fajardo gets it out to Santos, but he doesn’t attempt a shot as his man, the athletic and speedy Jericho Cruz, is able to recover in time. Tubid sees this, and decides to curl back to the corner unfollowed while his man, JR Quinahan, has his attention on Santos:
Norwood realizes Tubid is now wide open to take the 3-ball from the right corner, so he rushes to leave his man, Chris Lutz, and follows Tubid. Too late. Before Norwood can even get a hand up, Tubid is already at the height of his shooting motion. Swish. 100-98:
Austria deserves credit. He didn’t play much of the misfiring Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter down the stretch, opting to go with defense over offense by playing Ross and Tubid.
Thankfully for him, the two were solid offensively as well, giving San Miguel the near unstoppable formation of surrounding the most dominant big man in the game today with 4 floor-spreading threats who can also cause havoc on defense.
The returning Paul Lee stopped the bleeding momentarily by hitting a clutch 3-pointer, but that was quickly answered. Watch how this play unfolds, starting with 4 Rain or Shine guys in Fajardo’s proximity:
Fajardo has become a very good passer for his size, and sensing that he’s in trouble underneath the rim here, gets the ball out to his open shooters. The ball eventually gets to Santos, who drilled this big shot as no Elasto Painters got to contest him in time:
San Miguel went with a zone defense late, banking on the Elasto Painters missing their attempts from outside. It was a bold move but it worked. Rain or Shine missed 5 shots from downtown just in the final 5:12 of the game alone.
After Fajardo tied the game at the foul line, San Miguel got a stop and took the lead thanks to this high-IQ play by its best player:
In the image below, notice how as Fajardo backs up Beau Belga, Quinahan is already on June Mar’s right side to prevent the Beermen big from spinning to the baseline and take a jump hook - a favorite of his:
Fajardo is able to read what the defense is about to do, and instead spins left, goes to the middle of the paint, and takes a short jumper over the much smaller Belga. Bam. San Miguel’s on top:
Lee, the clutch player he is, was then able to tie the game, but then Ross, a career 18% shooter from downtown, hit the dagger from way outside despite being well-defended:
Lee and Chan then had good looks to tie the game, but missed both, leading to the San Miguel victory.
It’s easy to think San Miguel will be boasting with confidence after its epic comeback while Rain or Shine will be disheartened, but that doesn’t mean the Beermen are going to cruise the rest of the way.
The Elasto Painters are tough, battle-tested, and dangerous, so should Austria’s team start slow and trail big again in any upcoming game, chances are they won’t pull off another comeback.
Here’s another concern: Cabagnot is now 3-of-15 from downtown in two games against ROS this conference, while Lassiter is 1-of-10. Both guys have struggled from deep this season.
Tubid and Ross hit big triples in Game 1, but their career history shows they don’t string together consecutive hot-shooting nights. The two combined for 4 3-balls in just 12 minutes, and there's a great chance it won't happen again.
Nonetheless, Rain or Shine doesn’t have an answer for Fajardo one-on-one, but truth be told no one in the Philippines does. The Elasto Painters will continue to double-team him and maybe mix in some zone, so, again, the onus will be on SMB’s shooters to spread the floor.
If they do, the series is theirs. – Rappler.com