Both the San Miguel Beermen and the Magnolia Hotshots clinched wins earlier today in the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, and yet a few days ago it wasn’t so clear if they would do so.
At that time, the Beermen suffered their worst loss at the hands of the TNT Tropang Giga, while the Hotshots fell to the Meralco Bolts for the first time in their series. But only a few days later, San Miguel handed TNT its worst loss in the series, while Magnolia bounced back and got a firm grip on their matchup.
The San Miguel Beermen easily doused any momentum the TNT Tropang Giga had after Game 3 by coming up with a dominant win of their own
The Beermen couldn’t have drawn up a more ideal response after suffering their worst loss in the postseason.
They started the game with man-to-man defense, bringing pressure early and preventing the Tropang Giga from starting strong. It was the perfect revenge game from SMB as they wreaked havoc in the paint, leading by as many as 37 points and posting a 54-34 advantage when it came to points in the paint. TNT’s nightmare was a whole-game affair, as they never led in the game and suffered a 116-90 loss that also evened the series at two apiece.
Mo Tautuaa came off the bench to lead all scorers with 25 points, missing just two shot attempts. June Mar Fajardo came up with a double-double performance of 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Marcio Lassiter (13 points) and Arwind Santos (11 points) each made three 3-pointers.
The Tropang Giga’s leading scorer also came off the bench, as Jayson Castro paced the team with 15 points. None of TNT’s starters shot above 45 percent, as RR Pogoy and Mikey Williams missed a combined 18 of their 22 shot attempts.
Man-to-man defense really gave the Tropang Giga fits, especially early on in the game, but San Miguel needed to be disciplined in order to sustain it. Getting into foul trouble would not only make it difficult offensively but if a key contributor on offense was in foul trouble, then it would have posed a two-way problem for SMB. Santos and Chris Ross had three and four fouls in this game, respectively, and if not for the lopsided score, this would have been a more pressing issue.
Relying on man-to-man moving forward also means the Beermen will exert more effort on defense and require earlier substitutions. SMB head coach Leo Austria went to his bench with 5:10 left in the first quarter and Tautuaa, Terrence Romeo, and CJ Perez did well in sustaining, if not even improving on what the starters had done earlier in the game. In fact, Tautuaa outscored the TNT bench 19-16 by himself in the first half.
Missing Kelly Williams has been tough for the Tropang Giga and it has become more apparent as the series goes on. Sure, TNT had previously been able to neutralize Fajardo, but as more games are played, fresher legs become more crucial. With JP Erram and Troy Rosario in foul trouble early on, both Fajardo and Tautuaa had an easy time scoring inside. San Miguel also understood that Erram getting some points early helps keep him motivated on defense and shutting that down may have also been one of the reasons SMB went with their man-to-man defense.
Overall, the Tropang Giga must prepare a better game plan in what is now a virtual best-of-three series. Their traps in the post were effective early on, but Fajardo and Tautuaa have figured that out. As a team, the Beermen also scored at least 25 points in all four quarters. TNT only managed to do that in the last two quarters, during which the outcome was pretty much decided. Involving Fajardo in more pick-and-rolls now that man-to-man is more in play could be an option, especially if it can help get Pogoy and Williams going from arguably their worst games in the series.
The Magnolia Hotshots are now a win away from the finals, and the Meralco Bolts are left wondering what could have been
After letting a winnable game slip away from them, the Hotshots decided to take matters into their own hands.
Holding a 23-18 lead after the first quarter, Magnolia went on a 9-1 run that brought their lead to double-digits that eventually ballooned to as much as 22 points. With the 81-69 win, they are now one win away from the finals.
Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang have more often than not come up with double-doubles against Meralco and it became a much easier task with Raymond Alamzan out. Both finished with 17 points and they combined for 23 of the team’s 49 rebounds. Their efforts, along with that of Mark Barocca (17 points and six assists), made up for an off night for Paul Lee, who scored nine points on 11 shots.
Reynel Hugnatan continues to defy Father Time, finishing a game-high 21 points and nearly completing the double-double with nine rebounds.
However, he had little support as apart from Cliff Hodge (13 points) and Chris Newsome (11 points), the rest of the team scored 23 points on 5-of-36 shooting.
A 42-year-old leading both in scoring is quite an individual feat, however given that the team he plays for lost, it’s a bad look for the rest of the squad. Apart from Chris Newsome, Meralco continues to search for consistent answers on offense. Him today and someone else tomorrow is not going to work especially in the playoffs and for a squad that has preached balance and discipline in the elimination round, Meralco seems like a far cry from it now.
They can take a page out of both SMB and TNT’s books in terms of gang rebounding. At this point, Meralco is at a disadvantage in the frontcourt but working together can help them narrow the gap. That they had 48 rebounds to Magnolia’s 48 only shows that it can be done.
Magnolia has so far survived with a hit-or-miss Lee, but having him play well in the close out game would bode well for him and the rest of the team moving forward. Both the Beermen and the Tropang Giga have more imposing frontlines so the habitual double-doubles from Abueva and Sangalang may become few and far between.
The former UE Red Warrior lit up SMB for 32 points and earned the win, while he struggled against TNT, resulting in an 83-76 loss. Regardless of their opponent, Lee will play a larger role moving forward, but there’s no better way to get him going than in this series.
Next week could see both the San Miguel Beermen and the Magnolia Hotshots inching closer to a finals matchup. Alternatively, the TNT Tropang Giga and the Meralco Bolts win in their respective Game 5s, making things a little more interesting.
How do you think things will play out this coming week? Let us know in the comments below!