The San Miguel Beermen dealt Barangay Ginebra a tough hand to start 2017, winning 72-70 in front of a large crowd at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. Despite a quiet night from June Mar Fajardo, the Beermen were still able to get things done, relying on their gritty defense to Barangay Ginebra from gaining any momentum in the ball.
1. The Beermen showed that they can win even when their offense is broken
The Beermen’s victory in this low scoring affair was impressive for many reasons. It was the lowest scoring game in two years, when Kia Sorento defeated Barako Bull 71-68 on June 10, 2015. The Beermen entered the game averaging 99 points per contest- they didn’t get anywhere near that mark against Barangay Ginebra.
So how did they pull this off? They rolled up their sleeves, dug deep and made Ginebra’s offense look stuck in mud.
You might think of this San Miguel team as finesse-based squad that wins because of their offense. But the truth is that the secret to this six-game San Miguel winning streak is how relentless and brilliant their defense has become.
Only two players scored in double digits for Barangay Ginebra: Japeth Aguilar with 17 points, and Sol Mercado off the bench with 11. The rest of Barangay Ginebra had evenings that they’d rather forget. The Beermen’s defense was impressive for several stages of the game, particularly in the second half. Despite June Mar Fajardo in foul trouble, the team’s defense still held up.
And if you’re any of the 11 teams that are looking to topple San Miguel from their lofty perch, that has to be scary. No longer can teams look forward to outscoring the Beermen, they’ll have to put in work on offense now. If San Miguel can keep up this defensive intensity, they’re going to have a smooth ride to the Finals.
Speaking of defense…
2. Arwind Santos’s impact on defense makes up for his struggles on offense.
One day, we will look back on Arwind Santos’ career and regret how time was spent criticizing him for what he wasn’t, instead of appreciating him for what he is.
Case in point: Santos’ performance in the win against Barangay Ginebra. He finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. On paper, it might seem like pedestrian numbers from the former league MVP. But his impact is felt in far more than mere box score stats. The countless layups he’s changed in the paint or when he’s going for chasedown blocks all add up in the end. The willingness to defer to Fajardo and not look for his shot was a huge part of the Beermen’s ascension.
And in this game, he kept Barangay Ginebra at bay with two monster offensive rebounds in the dying seconds. Two Alex Cabagnot triples were chased down by Santos, wasting away more time for Barangay Ginebra and keeping them from completing the comeback.
The Spiderman keeps reminding us all of his unique footprint on the game. He’ll never be the most beloved Beerman, or close to the list. But where would this team be without him?
3. The search for consistency continues for Barangay Ginebra
After their loss, Barangay Ginebra is now sporting a 3-4 card, veering towards the lower part of the standings. They haven’t won two straight games yet, unable to capitalize from good wins and putting some additional wins on the board.
The most important question of course is if they’ll ever get there. Their offense too often sputters and falters, making every single offensive possession an adventure for the players and fans. And it all boils down to that one elephant in the room: they just don’t have enough shooting.
Coming into the game, Barangay Ginebra was shooting 32.3% from the field, second worst only to the Mahindra Floodbuster. They are the worst in the league from long distance, averaging only five three pointers as a team, shooting 28% from the perimeter.
Those numbers become even worse after this latest loss. 3/19 shooting at 15% from the outside shows the difficulty Barangay Ginebra has in getting points from the outside. And when teams can sense that Ginebra doesn’t have it from long distance, they’re more than willing to pack the paint and keep LA Tenorio or Japeth Aguilar from doing damage.
So what’s the solution to this? The reality is unless players like Kevin Ferrer or Sol Mercado are given more opportunities to hit from the perimeter, there isn’t really any. They’ll have to hang their hats on defense even further, making the game ugly and preventing opponents from having a scoring performance that they won’t be able to keep up with.
As long as Barangay Ginebra can put a chokehold on games, they should be able to advance to the Playoffs. But if they run into a squad like San Miguel again, can they really hang their hat on limiting Fajardo to only 9 points again?