2 NBA vets humble Beermen
But the Beermen just couldn’t handle NBA veterans Lance Stephenson and Salah Mejri as the Liaoning Flying Leopards, a semifinalist in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) swept into the finals with a 111-89 rout of the Filipinos Saturday night.
The 6-foot-5 Stephenson, a nine-year NBA veteran who played for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, shot a game-high 35 points while Mejri, a 7-2 center from Tunisia who played four seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, added 21 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
Liaoning swept into a 51-30 lead at halftime with a 25-2 run which Stephenson capped with a long triple to finish with 23 in the first half. Mejri, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds in Tunisia’s 86-67 win over Gilas Pilipinas in the recent Fiba World Cup, showed his versatility with a dunk and a three-point shot during the scoring rampage that saw SMB end up with just seven points in the second quarter.
The Beermen just didn’t have the defense to stop the rampaging Liaoning imports and consoled themselves with having proven their worth in their forthcoming bid for the PBA grand slam with earlier victories against the Shenzen Aviators, 90-76, and Ryukyu Golden Kings, 101-92 while Fajardo and Lassiter are nursing injuries.
Alex Cabagnot, who was down with the flu, also saw action finally against Liaoning but he was not missed as his brief absence gave SMB a chance to finally tap Terrence Romeo as the new backcourt partner of Chris Ross.
The tournament also showcased what SMB hopes will be the key in the Beermen’s bid for a second title grand slam in the league. Dez Wells, a 27-year-old veteran of the NBA G League and the Italian League, has averaged 35.5 points in three games in Macau so far. A tremendous leaper, Wells pulled off the highlight play in SMB’s win over Ryukyu with a clean block of a dunk by a fellow import.
Stephenson earlier scored 31 as Liaoning debuted with a 96-91 win over the TNT KaTropa then contributed 25 in the 110-82 rout of the Niigata Albirex of Japan. The KaTropa wound up with 1-1 record after nosing out Niigata, 99-90, even as the Blackwater Elite, the third PBA team in the field, took back-to-back losses from the Seoul SK Knights (93-77) and the Chiba Jets (109-69).
The Knights went on to seal a title clash with the Leopards after nipping the Zhejiang Golden Lions, 77-76, in the other semifinal duel. The championship was going on at presstime Sunday after the SMB-Zhejiang match for third.
The Beermen take on the Phoenix Fuel Masters in their Governors’ Cup debut this Wednesday.