Last December, the PBA sent out an email about a change in their schedule of the ongoing 2017 Oppo PBA Philippine Cup. The original schedule for January 6 was that GlobalPort and Meralco would be featured as the day’s second game. However, it was decided that the Batang Pier and the Bolts be the curtain-raisers with the San Miguel Beermen and Blackwater Elite claiming the main game spot.
There was no official explanation but the popular opinion was that it was done because it was expected to be an exciting match between two of the league’s top 5 teams. Blackwater has had a surprising start in the Philippine Cup and, led by rookie sensation Mac Belo, they were seen as a stern challenge to the two-time defending champions.
Instead of an amazing battle, the fans who watched at the Mall of Asia Arena, Wednesday night, witnessed a showcase of the Beermen’s depth as they easily handled the Elite, 118-93.
The Beermen dominated the match as they led for more than 44 minutes and by as much as 29 points. However, the Elite had one late rally in them as they brought down SMB’s advantage down to just 11 points, 101-90, with still 4:23 left thanks to Raymond Aguilar’s 10 fourth quarter points.
However, the Beermen quickly showed the poise of a champion. SMB head coach Leo Austria called a timeout and drew a play for June Mar Fajardo who responded with an and-one play. Alex Cabagnot followed it up with a jumper and Chris Ross added fast break layup off a steal and, all of a sudden, Blackwater’s rally was halted.
SMB turned the final minutes of the game into a celebration as Austria fielded in seldom-used rookie Arnold Van Opstal. They immediately went to him and he scored the first basket of his PBA career at the 2:07 mark of the fourth.
The win strengthened the Beermen’s hold of the top spot as they now hold a 6-1 win-loss tally and extended their winning streak to five games. Blackwater fell to 6th place with their even 4-4 record which places them near the danger zone as the 7th and 8th placers after the elimination round will face a twice-to-win disadvantage in the quarterfinals.
Blackwater started the game strong led by Arthur Dela Cruz who scored 8 points in the opening period as they jumped the gun against the Beermen and led 8-2. However, it took Austria one timeout to completely figure out the adjustments they needed to beat Blackwater.
Fajardo scored 8 points in the first and the Elite had no answer for Gabby Espinas who added 7 first quarter points off the bench as the Beermen led 37-21 after the first 12 minutes.
Espinas was named the Best Player of the Game with 22 points and 6 rebounds.
“We have June Mar Fajardo, he can dominate everything. That’s the reason bakit nahirapan sila,” said Austria after the game.
Fajardo had 25 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks in less than 30 minutes of action. Marcio Lassiter and Cabagnot, who was sporting a mask in the game to protect his broken nose., added 14 points each.
Dela Cruz led Blackwater with 16 points while Aguilar added 15. Nard Pinto also had a solid outing with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists but the Elite sorely missed the scoring and the intensity of Belo who was shellshocked with only 4 points in the game.
“From the start, our goal is to get one of the top two spots,” sais Austria. “Parang nasa quarterfinals ka pero 1-0 ka na agad. We need to step up more because we’re facing Ginebra, Rain or Shine, GlobalPort and TNT. To avoid any complications, for me, 8 (wins) is the magic number.”
The Beermen need to rest up quickly as they’ll take on the Barangay Ginebra Kings on Sunday while the Elite can re-focus themselves after suffering their second straight setback and prepare to bounce back against the Alaska Aces on January 15.
SAN MIGUEL 118 – Fajardo 25, Espinas 22, Cabagnot 14, Lassiter 14, Santos 8, Reyes 8, Tubid 8, Van Opstal 6, Ross 4, Garcia 4, Agovida 3, Heruela 2, McCarthy 0, Mabulac 0.
BLACKWATER 93 – Dela Cruz 16, Aguilar 15, Pinto 12, Sumang 11, Buenafe 10, Forrester 7, Sena 6, Cervantes 4, Pascual 4, Belo 4, Miranda 2, Melano 2, Ababou 0, Banal 0.
Quarters: 37-21, 65-40, 91-66, 118-93