Photo from PBA Images
MANILA, Philippines – Somehow, the San Miguel Beermen took both a step closer and back to retaining their PBA Philippine Cup Championship on the same day.
The Beermen defeated the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters a third straight time in Game 6, 90-82, to close out their semifinals, but in the process lost their best player and two-time reigning PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo to a left knee injury.
Fajardo hurt his left knee during a box out play with Rain or Shine forward Jireh Ibanes. After the knee buckled following a bump, the MVP was stretchered out of the playing court and eventually inserted in an ambulance to be brought to St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, and the rest of the Beermen made up for the absence of their big man and were able to hold off a late Rain or Shine rally to close the fourth period.
San Miguel will take on the Alaska Aces in a finals rematch from last season’s Philippine and Governors’ Cups. On both occasions, San Miguel came out on top as champion. Game 1 is on Sunday, January 17.
“I think it’s obvious: we’re very happy with this win, but I’m sad with what happened with June Mar,” said Beermen head coach Leo Austria after his team bounced back from a 15-point deficit.
“This is playoff time. I’m happy to see some of the players step up. I think after June Mar, meron pa naman kami buhay (we still had life),” he later added.
Lassiter finished with 22 points in the win while Santos had 15 points and 19 rebounds. Fajardo left the game with 14 points and 12 boards.
“I’m glad our players - especially when June Mar got hurt - everybody stepped up,” said Austria.
San Miguel trailed 41-26 at one point in the second half due in large part to 16 turnovers in the first two quarters, but it was able to limit the giveaways to just 8 in the second half.
The Beermen also won the battle in rebounding, 59-50.
Beau Belga led Rain or Shine with 16 points and 11 boards while Gabe Norwood and Jewel Ponferada had 14 points each.
Already without Raymond Almazan (ankle), the Elasto Painters also played without Paul Lee, who will be out 3 to 4 weeks after soreness in his knee.
It’s the same knee that had a partially torn ACL and forced him to sit out the PH Cup elimination round.
“From the start, we know this ROS is really tough to beat, even if they don’t have Paul Lee or Almazan,” Austria said.
San Miguel was down just 3 when Fajardo got injured and closed the third quarter on a 21-11 run to take a 7-point lead entering the final period.
Although the Beermen led for most of the fourth period, the Elasto Painters made it a close affair by trimming the deficit to 86-82 with 31 seconds left after a pair of Belga free throws.
But on the next play, a lapse in judgment by rookie Maverick Ahanmisi cost dearly. The first-year player let 10 seconds melt of the clock before fouling Chris Ross with 16 seconds left.
Ross made both free throws to push his team’s edge to 6, and on the next play, Jeff Chan missed a 3-pointer, followed by a Jericho Cruz turnover.
Lassiter then took the ball down the other end of the court and made a wide-up open layup that sealed the win for his team.
San Miguel (90): Lassiter 22, Santos 15, Fajardo 14, Espinas 9, Ross 8, Cabagnot 6, Tubid 6, Arana 4, De Ocampo 4, Lutz 2.
Rain or Shine (82): Belga 16, Norwood 14,Ponferada 14, Chan 11, Ibanes 10, Cruz 6, Ahanmisi 5, Quinahan 4, Trollano 2, Tiu 0.
Quarter scores: 19-16, 37-46, 70-63, 90-82