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As PBA restarts, San Miguel hopes to continue a run

By: - Reporter / @BLozadaINQ
/ 04:04 AM September 01, 2021

The Beermen have been riding high on CJ Perez’s production from the bench. —PBA IMAGES

When San Miguel Beer clashes with Terrafirma in the resumption of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) on Wednesday, one person will be in the spotlight: Swingman CJ Perez.

And it has nothing to do with leftover drama from the trade that shipped the celebrated former Gilas Pilipinas standout from the Dyip to the powerhouse Beermen. It has more to do with the fact that Perez was relocated to the bench after an opening day defeat to Meralco in the Philippine Cup, a move that has spurred three straight victories for San Miguel.

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“So far he’s okay, he still has his scoring but the last three games he had to come off the bench,” San Miguel coach Leo Austria told SportsIQ, the Inquirer’s sports show, recently. “And it turned out very good for everybody because we have high bench points and I guess my hunch was right.”

Perez was the league’s leading scorer in the 2020 Philippine Cup, when he was still playing for Terrafirma, averaging 24.4 points a game while converting 44 percent of his 19 attempts per outing.

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Moved to the bench, Perez’s minutes dropped somewhat from 37 to 32 per night, and his scoring dipped to 17.5 points a game on more or less the same shooting clip (45 percent) off 14 attempts per game.

The number that mattered, however, was zero—the number of times the Beermen have lost sine the switch.

“Every player in this team deserves to be in the starting lineup but I’m happy because they can deliver whether I use them as a starter or a substitute,” said Austria. “I told them that whether you’re a starter or a substitute, you will get your minutes.”

Austria’s focus will be on keeping that streak intact with the resumption of the games in Bacolor, Pampanga, after the league was forced into a hiatus because of a spike in COVID-19 infections triggered by the rise of the more transmissible Delta variant.

San Miguel Beer and Terrafirma take the court at 3 p.m., a matchup sandwiched in the middle of a tripleheader that starts at 12:30 p.m. when Blackwater battles TNT.

Meralco and Magnolia cap the day with their 6 p.m. tussle.

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“We have to refocus and think of what we did in the past, especially in our past games,” said Austria in Filipino. “Going into the bubble would be fairly easier now because this is our second time and we’ll try our very best to get our chemistry right away.”

The Beermen are legitimate darkhorses in the tournament, with the return of six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo triggering talk of the team reclaiming its all-Filipino throne.

San Miguel Beer surrendered what was a five-year reign atop the Philippine Cup when it got booted out from the quarterfinals last year. But the Beermen played the entire Philippine Cup last year minus Fajardo, who sat out the bubble while rehabilitating a broken leg. Barangay Ginebra eventually emerged the new kings of the league’s prized conference.

But the Beermen are slowly finding their old form.

“Conditioning-wise, we’re improving, and you can see that the players are very eager to play and we already had a good start at 3-1. We’re still a contender, that’s why most of the players are very excited for the resumption of the conference,” Austria said.

The league released the schedule of the restart for the first five days.

On Thursday, NLEX battles Alaska at 2 p.m., while at 4:35 p.m. Rain or Shine takes on Phoenix.

Barangay Ginebra will make its debut in the restart on Friday, when it squares off against Terrafirma at 3 p.m.

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Perez coming off the bench did wonders for San Miguel, says Austria

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