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MANILA, Philippines – It felt like the days of the vaunted “Death Five” were over when San Miguel traded away longtime standouts Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot.
Santos and Cabagnot, after all, won nine championships with the Beermen as they formed a lethal starting lineup with June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, and Chris Ross.
But as far as Barangay Ginebra head coach Tim Cone is concerned, San Miguel still boasts of such formidable combination.
Cone has a lot to consider for his adjustments next game after the Beermen drew first blood against the Gin Kings in their best-of-five semifinals in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup with 92-90 victory on Wednesday, January 24.
Star guard CJ Perez topscored for San Miguel with 26 points, while import Bennie Boatwright finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists as San Miguel claimed its seventh straight win.
Seven-time league MVP June Mar Fajardo also delivered for the Beermen with 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
“They got a lot of different kinds of weapons. They got their own version of Death Five, except that Boatwright is playing Arwind Santos’ role,” said Cone.
“It is like Arwind and June Mar together in the Death Five, except Boatwright is five inches taller and 30 pounds heavier and shoots the ball as well as Arwind did. Just makes our job even harder.”
The Gin Kings keyed on Boatwright defensively as they limited him to his lowest scoring output of the conference.
Ginebra simply had no choice, considering Boatwright averaged 40.5 points and nearly six three-pointers in his first four games in the PBA since he replaced original San Miguel import Ivan Aska.
But even with Boatwright contained, the Beermen flexed their depth as Perez turned in his highest scoring performance of the conference.
Don Trollano also contributed for San Miguel with 10 points, while Lassiter (7 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals) and Ross (6 assists and 5 rebounds) also made their presence felt.
“You put so much focus on June Mar, trying to defend June Mar, now we have to defend Boatwright. They have other guys who can step up. Tonight, it was CJ,” said Cone.
Cone, though, finds consolation in the fact the Gin Kings almost pulled it off.
Four missed free throws by the Beermen inside the final 30 seconds kept the door ajar for Ginebra, but the Gin Kings wasted their last crack at either a game-tying shot or a game-winner after committing a turnover.
“We just got to pay a little bit more attention to detail if we’re going to try to find a way to beat this team – good team,” said Cone. – Rappler.com