Key stops in the fourth help San Miguel prove that there’s still reason to ‘Fear the Beer’
It had been easy to dismiss San Miguel Beer at the start of the Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup months ago, what with six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo out for the season due to a broken leg.
An opening-day victory last March did nothing to change that perception of vulnerability. In fact, that perception was amplified inside the bubble at Smart Clark Giga City when hotshot gunner Terrence Romeo was sent home because of an injured shoulder.
On Wednesday night, the defending champions showed that with a lot of defending, there’s still a lot of reasons to, as a popular hashtag goes, “Fear the Beer.”
San Miguel held Meralco to just two field goals in the first seven minutes of the fourth period and turned a 13-point deficit into an 89-82 victory at Angeles University Foundation.
After opening their bubble stint with two straight losses—they came into Clark Freeport with a win in the bank courtesy of an opening-day rout of Magnolia before the season was shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic—the Beermen have now won three straight matches here.
And with their fourth win in six games, they have suddenly thrust themselves into contention for a top 4 slot, which offers twice-to-beat protection in the first round of the playoffs.
And as coach Leo Austria had earlier hoped, the Beermen are proving that they are more than just a Fajardo-fueled five.
“We got a lot of veterans on the team and they keep encouraging us to do better,” said Mo Tautuaa, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds and two assists.
The Beermen fell into a 13-point hole in the third, 52-65, and were down nine at the start of the fourth when Tautuaa and Arwind Santos hit threes to jump-start San Miguel’s rally.
“My players knew it was winning time and they know how to win,” said Austria, whose wards dropped the Bolts to 3-3. “We bank on the experience of our players.”
Alex Cabagnot hit a clutch triple that made the count 86-80 and then hit Chris Ross with a kickout that resulted in a dagger triple that sealed the outcome.
“This is really important because we’re in the middle of the standings and this win will give us a step ahead of the likes of Meralco,” Austria said.
Santos also came up huge for the Beermen, finishing with 17 points, 11 rebounds and two steals in 42 minutes of action. He hit 53 percent of his shots, logging a 3-of-6 clip from beyond the arc.
“He’s been focused from the start,” Austria said. “When we lost our first two games here, he kept reminding us that we’re not here for a vacation. We have to step up. And the morning after our second loss, he was up early in the morning, jogging.”