Team effort made the difference in the opening games of the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, but individual effort stole the show in the Game 2s on tap earlier today.

Marcio Lassiter gave the San Miguel Beermen a 98-96 win over the TNT Tropang Giga off a putback in the closing seconds, while Paul Lee led the Magnolia Hotshots over the Meralco Bolts in convincing fashion.

The TNT Tropang Giga left the door open for the San Miguel Beermen and they paid the price for it

Lassiter missed the potential game-winner in the Beermen’s Game 1 loss to the Tropang Giga. This time, he made sure that he knocked it down.

After June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos missed their point-blank shots, Lassiter got the ball under the basket and lifted the ball over the outstretched TNT defense, putting the ball off the glass and into the hoop, sinking the game-winning shot that tied the series at 1-1.

Initially, it looked like the Tropang Giga had this in the bag, as they led by as many as 19 points late in the third quarter. Sloppy play continued to be a recurring theme for SMB in the first half and part of the second half, with TNT wasting no time in capitalizing on it. The Beermen may have figured out ways of countering the Tropang Giga’s post traps, but TNT sustained their starter’s efforts with effective bench production. 

Terrence Romeo, who only had two points at halftime, scored 15 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter off acrobatic layups and 3-pointers, leading the SMB comeback and outscoring the Tropang Giga on his own, 15-14, in the final quarter. He picked up from the first half efforts of Fajardo, who despite finishing with only a handful of rebounds in the first two quarters dominated the paint offensively with 19 first-half points.

TNT spoiled a huge game from JP Erram, who had a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. Beyond the numbers, his ability to shoot from the perimeter brought both Fajardo and Mo Tautuaa out of the paint, creating wider lanes for the Tropang Giga’s slashers.

As it is, TNT’s late-game execution remains an area of vulnerability. It’s what doomed them in this game and if not for their Game 1 defense would have had them starting at an 0-2 series deficit. Teams that have a large lead tend to take their foot off the gas pedal even for a little bit and against a team like San Miguel, that can be (and proved to be) dangerous. That the Tropang Giga got into the penalty late in the fourth quarter only added to their woes as they gave points away without burning the clock.

Mikey Williams continued to labor for his shots, as he needed 16 attempts to produce 12 points. The playmaking continues to be there as he had seven assists in Game 2, but more scoring from him would definitely make TNT a tougher cover.

Meanwhile, SMB will have to find that consistent sense of urgency as coming back from huge deficits may not be sustainable against an opponent like the Tropang Giga. Part of that means finding consistent support for Fajardo. From scoring to rebounding, TNT went by committee to offset Fajardo’s impact. Romeo took over in the fourth quarter but apart from him and fajardo, none of the other Beermen shot above 45 percent from the field.

In the same vein, SMB once again needs more effort from their bench. The Tropang Giga went 11-men deep in this contest, while San Miguel stuck with a nine-man rotation. CJ Perez had five fouls and three turnovers, while Tautuaa had two fouls and two turnovers. Both were also a combined 6-for-17, and better performances from them will put less pressure on SMB’s starters.


With their big men dropping like flies, the Meralco Bolts could only watch as Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots wreak havoc

Perhaps the true Playoff P in basketball is Paul Lee.

With Meralco building a double digit lead in the second quarter, Lee scored six of Magnolia’s final 11 points, erasing the 12-point deficit to give the Hotshots a 38-36 halftime lead. Two quarters into Game 2, the former UE Red Warrior had already matched his Game 1 output of 17 points.

In the second half, Lee and the rest of Magnolia never looked back, as they took advantage of the depleted Bolts, clinching a 92-78 win and a 2-0 series lead.

While Lee finished with a game-high 28 points, he had a lot of help as Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva both finished with double-doubles. For Meralco, Allein Maliksi eclipsed his Game 1 output when he finished the first half with seven points. Unfortunately, those were the only points he scored in the game. Chris Newsome led the Bolts with 18 points, while John Pinto and the ageless Reynes Hugnatan scored 12 points each.

Rebounding will spell the difference between extra possessions and defensive stops, developments that will be crucial in a close game against balanced teams. With Raymond Alamzan out due to a sprained left ankle and Cliff Hodge ejected from the game (after getting into a scuffle with Abeuva for the nth time), Magnolia continued to have an easy advantage on the boards.

Meralco will then need to count on Nonoy Baclao and Reymar Jose to pick up the slack from the frontcourt. Beyond that, they would need more from Maliksi and Mac Belo. Newsome stepping up was a positive development but he can’t do it alone against the Hotshots.

As long as Magnolia mixes things up offensively, they will be hard to stop. They do, however, have to fix (or perhaps FIX) their free throw shooting. The Hotshots missed nine of their 13 free throw attempts in the first half and finished the game making 14 of their 27 free throw attempts. It may not have mattered in Game 2, but it may make a difference in closer games down the road.

Game 3s are the pivotal moments in a seven-game series. For both the San Miguel Beermen and the TNT Tropang Giga, a Game 3 win would shift control and momentum in their favor. Meanwhile the Meralco Bolts could get back into the series with a win over the Magnolia Hotshots, who would prefer to move to within a game of the finals. Friday presents a potential turning point in the semifinals, and as to where it will swing will depend on how teams maximize the opportunities in front of them.