Solid as ever
The change was inevitable.
But how San Miguel coped with the absence of a six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo was the question that hovered over the five-time defending champions Beermen heading into the 45th season.
In the first few possessions of their season and in the fourth quarter against a Magnolia team that reached the finals in the last two editions of the PBA Philippine Cup, the Beermen showed they remain a force even without the cornerstone of their franchise.
“I think this game made people realize that they can’t underestimate us,” coach Leo Austria said after the Beermen hammered out an emphatic 94-78 victory over the Hotshots on Sunday night at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
While the Beermen no longer had a nimble, wide-bodied center to dump the ball to inside the paint, they still have exceptional playmakers who can run the show and find open teammates within the flow of their offense.
Terrence Romeo and Chris Ross quarterbacked the attack efficiently, while Mo Tautuaa showed that he can be a lethal ball screen partner for San Miguel’s elite guards, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Commissioner Willie Marcial will meet with the board of governors Tuesday night where he will present all possible scenarios of the PBA suspending the Philippine Cup because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Playing heavier minutes, Arwind Santos quietly submitted a double-double with 18 points and 15 rebounds that went with five steals. The three-point shot remained a weapon with the Beermen hitting 12 as Santos nailed four and Romeo, Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot knocking down two each.
“The last two weeks before the start of the season, our practices really picked up,” Austria said. “We were able to establish the chemistry we knew we needed to compete without June Mar.”
The season-opening duel was a rematch between two squads that battled for the All-Filipino crown last season where the Beermen won by the slimmest of margins in a winner-takes-all Game 7.
San Miguel turned it into a showcase of its undeniable firepower, a statement that it was a team that had the artillery to handle Fajardo’s absence due to a possible season-ending shin injury.
“We’re just playing ball,” Ross said. “We’re a really talented team. The thing is when you have a player like June Mar, that’s a six-time MVP, you cater to him, you run everything through him and he makes it easier for everybody.” INQ
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