For the San Miguel Beermen, the waiting game begins.
They’ve done what they could with all the factors within their control, finishing the elimination round of the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup with a 7-4 record. At fourth place, the Beermen find themselves in a best-of-three quarterfinal series against a still-to-be-determined opponent.
Closing out the preliminaries with a 101-100 win against the Alaska Aces lets them end the preliminaries on a good note, but it was not without its hiccups.
SMB came out of the gate aggressive and looked like they were on a mission, starting the game on a 6-0 run that allowed them to take an early double-digit lead. However, the Aces came back with a 12-0 run of their own to take a 47-43 halftime advantage. The game was close from then on and San Miguel needed a clutch 3-pointer from Marcio Lassiter to take the lead for good with 3.8 seconds left in the game.
CJ Perez led the Beermen with 20 points, while June Mar Fajardo and Chris Ross scored 17 points each. It wasn’t the easiest of victories since SMB had to overcome the pesky Alaska frontline of Abu Tratter (game-high 24 points) and Rodney Brondial (17 points and 12 rebounds).
Depending on how things play out in the final games of the elimination round, San Miguel could be facing either the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters or the NorthPort Batang Pier.
Both games the Beermen played against them were decided by two points each, with SMB winning against the Batang Pier but taking a loss against the Elasto Painters.
Between both games, though, the one against Rain or Shine remains of note not only because it was a loss but also because it was played during the resumption of games earlier in September. The Elasto Painters may have won on a Rey Nambatac go-ahead layup, but their physical play also contributed in keeping the Beermen at bay.
Regardless of who they will be facing, there will be a few x-factors that could help San Miguel breeze through the postseason or only complicate things.
The health of Terrence Romeo will be something to monitor moving forward as the Beermen will have to find other ways to replace his team-leading 19.0 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals. His status remains up in the air but expectations are that he could be ready by at least the quarterfinals. In fact, this isn’t the first time the three-time PBA Scoring Champion was injured this season as he sat out parts of the Philippine Cup due to a hyperextended left knee.
Even when he returns, Romeo won’t be at 100 percent. SMB head coach Leo Austria will have some decisions to make as to whether he will ease the former FEU Tamaraw back into the lineup or buy him more time to recover and return even closer to 100 percent. Alex Cabagnot also remains out, but he has been sitting out since play resumed in the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gymnasium in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Among the teams ahead of them in the standings, only the Meralco Bolts and Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots have beaten them, but it’s the Hotshots they will have to face first.
The Beermen sure can score, as evident in many of their games in this Philippine Cup. However, they need to shore up things on the defensive end, especially when the starters sit out.
In the game against the Aces, what was once a 15-point lead with 3:13 left in the first quarter became a 45-43 deficit with 1:53 left in the first half. SMB’s second unit could not build on the momentum generated by the starters during the first quarter and Alaska took advantage of this, particularly in the rebounding department, where they were able to grab eight offensive rebounds in the first half. It also didn’t help that Aces’ bench outscored that of San Miguel 55-38 (34-5 in the first half), further highlighting the imbalance despite SMB’s depth.
That Perez had four steals against Alaska and the fact that the Beermen are second in the league in blocks (2.3 per game) are both welcome developments, but it will take a “whole-of-team” approach to get the job done. Moving forward, they will have to find that balance regardless of the personnel on the court and while it will be difficult to achieve that 1:1 symmetry, they can’t take any chances against the likes of NorthPort, Rain or Shine, and even Magnolia.
The playoff picture is slowly taking shape and the San Miguel Beermen find themselves in a precarious position in the knockout stages. The road to their sixth Philippine Cup title in seven editions is not without its challenges but they will have to answer for the pressing issues that have arisen in the last few games.