The San Miguel Beermen scored arguably their biggest win of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup and even the entire season today and it wasn’t the 131-103 victory over the Terrafirma Dyip. In fact, it technically was more than the game itself. After missing seven contests to recover from throat surgery to address a laryngeal fracture, June Mar Fajardo made his return to the basketball court.
Following a long layoff, Fajardo played nearly 24 minutes of game time, finishing with 23 points (on 63.6 percent field goal shooting), nine rebounds, three assists, a block, and a steal. The six-time PBA MVP came off the bench and was a catalyst for the Beermen’s offense, which scored 78 points in the paint, more than double the Dyip’s output of 30. Moreover, SMB’s shooters found themselves with more space than in recent games, with Jericho Cruz (a game-high 25 points) making all six of his 3-point attempts.
The numbers are great considering what Fajardo went through and the fact that he had to reintegrate himself at this point in the conference, but they only tell half the story.
Fajardo’s presence changes both San Miguel’s own approach and that of the Beermen’s opponents when facing them. Defending the four-time PBA Finals MVP is a much taller order than battling Vic Manuel, Rodney Brondial, or even Jeepy Faundo down low. Fajardo’s skill level is much higher than his three aforementioned teammates combined. That’s no disrespect to them considering how the seven-time PBA All-Star routinely drew double-teams even when he wasn’t 100 percent.
Having Fajardo return now rather than at the conclusion of the preliminaries of the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup allows SMB to address some kinks on both ends of the floor. San Miguel returning to full strength with a shot at a more advantageous position in the postseason could mean things are working out for the defending conference champions. All these developments bring about great potential, but it’s on the Beermen to make sure that those possibilities are realized.
For one, SMB needs to know how it is to have a complete and relatively healthy lineup for more than a couple of games. With San Miguel set to play the TNT Tropang Giga and the Meralco Bolts before the Commissioner’s Cup Playoffs begin, there will be plenty of opportunities for the Beermen to measure themselves against good teams who provide different challenges regardless of their current state. Though they may be out of playoff contention, the Tropang Giga are already making preparations for the season-ending Governors’ Cup, which means they are, to some extent, playing for something.
The game against the Bolts also comes with large implications since both SMB and Meralco are trying to avoid the twice-to-win disadvantage in the quarterfinals. Facing one another in the postseason would be a better alternative, given that both will start on even ground.
Crucial moving forward would be how Fajardo and San Miguel import Devon Scott can mesh together, although Scott, who finished the win over the Dyip with a triple-double of 21 points, 19 rebounds, and 11 assists, has had a knack for putting the ball in places where his teammates can succeed. For sure, Scott has already developed some chemistry with Fajardo in practices, but it’s how they work together in games that matter more.
Are the Beermen peaking at the right time? There is hope that it’s yes, but that may be a question better answered in the coming games.
SMB should still remain cautious with Fajardo, who has had to deal with a handful of significant injuries in recent years. Winning games is naturally a priority with spots in the quarterfinals hanging in the balance, but the goal is an extended run in the Commissioner’s Cup and that will be a tall task without the 33-year old at his best.
June Mar Fajardo’s return with a couple of games left for the San Miguel Beermen in the preliminary round of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup is obviously great news, but the Beermen still have their work cut out for them.