The nightcap matchup between the NLEX Road Warriors and the San Miguel Beermen initially saw the former off to a slow start, but looking at the bigger picture, it may be a recurring theme for the latter.
San Miguel had the upper hand in the first quarter, yet the Road Warriors overcame their early struggles and an 11-point second-quarter deficit to flip the script and hand the Beermen a 114-102 loss during the opening day of the 2021 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup.
Import Brandon Brown had 36 points and 10 rebounds for SMB and June Mar Fajardo led all locals with 20 points, but NLEX won the game thanks in large part to their balanced scoring. Seven players scored at least nine points for the Road Warriors, with import KJ McDaniels finishing with a team-high 27 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. Kevin Alas also did a solid job running the offense, scoring 12 points and dishing out eight assists in the win.
Granted, this is only the first game of the season for both teams, but the Beermen are in uncharted territory now that the death lineup that they relied on during their title runs is but a mere memory. Prior to the start of this conference, Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot were traded for Vic Manuel and Simon Enciso, respectively, while Chris Ross sat out this contest.
Manuel and Enciso had contrasting debuts and all eyes will be on them, especially considering the SMB institutions they had to replace. Manuel finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, doing his damage when both Fajardo and Brown were out with his drives to the basket. Meanwhile, Enciso only managed to score two points and struggled as the lead guard in his first game with his new team. If there was any moment to take a win over San Miguel, now was indeed the right time.
Nevertheless, the game wasn’t a complete lost cause for SMB, as they saw areas they could either improve or work on, especially if they can stay complete and healthy. Depth won’t be a looming issue as their lineup remains at full strength considering that Manuel and Enciso are younger replacements age-wise.
The larger concern lies in managing all the mouths to feed within the Beermen. Brown had at least 17 points in the first quarter, while Marcio Lassiter and Terrence Romeo had a combined 13 points in the loss to NLEX. Managing the touches amongst the new and old players could be a talking point in the next games and how SMB head coach Leo Austria manages his starters and bench players could help keep everyone happy.
Keeping Brown and Fajardo together already has its benefits, as the well-travelled import knows how to draw the defense for the easy drop pass. Any opportunity to take the pressure off his back only means easy pickings for the six-time PBA MVP.
Working on other looks to feed Fajardo could help keep their opponents on their toes, especially as Brown isn’t slow on his feet. This would in turn, help produce more openings for shooters and some easy baskets inside for Manuel and Mo Tautuaa. In fact, he remains engaged, even when he is at the free throw line, known to some as the loneliest place in the world.
Brown did roll his ankle during the game so his status moving forward should be monitored as well, knowing that San Miguel would rather not see their injury list grow this early into the competition.
The lack of a true point guard with Ross out and Cabagnot gone certainly hindered the Beermen as Enciso, Lassiter, Romeo, and Von Pessumal took turns manning the point. Enciso and Romeo can take on some of the point guard duties, but these usually come in relief and when the offense needs different looks in spurts.
It may take some time to get used to the likes of Vic Manuel and Simon Enciso in SMB colours and Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot in Northport Batang Pier and Terrafirma Dyip uniforms, respectively, but status quo remains for the San Miguel Beermen. There will, however, be growing pains moving forward, and it was evident in their conference debut earlier today.