Blown chances are like salt in the wounds, more so when it comes during the postseason.
Chasing a loose ball, missed free throws and point-blank layups, a blown defensive assignment, and a litany of other what-ifs take on a whole different meaning when games are won and lost by less than a handful of points.
Just ask the San Miguel Beermen.
Their semifinal matchup with the vaunted Bay Area Dragons was billed as a heavyweight bout between two title contenders, and yet, the Beermen were comfortably ahead by 16 in the third quarter and even held a 102-99 lead with 50 seconds left in the game. Things were still in their favor even when the lead was cut down to a single point.
In the end, though, the Dragons came away with the 103-102 victory and a 1-0 lead in their best-of-five semifinal series in the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Bay Area is a team that rarely makes mistakes and San Miguel knew that this was a chance they couldn’t pass. Any advantage is more than welcome, especially against a team with the talent and coaching like that of the Dragons.
The Beermen’s talent and depth alone makes them a title contender, but championships are won when games are played. It’s easy to say the better team won, and while it is true, SMB’s late-game execution doomed them in the end.
A lot will be said about the decision to sub out June Mar Fajardo during the 30-second stretch where Bay Area made their comeback. One can say that SMB was going for a quicker defensive lineup but given how the Dragons got to score inside to move within a point and grabbed the rebound to ignite the game-winning fastbreak in the ensuing possession, perhaps a bigger body would have been more helpful. Then again, if San Miguel held on to win, we may not even be talking about that decision.
With a day before Game 2, the Beermen will definitely look at the game tape and what went wrong and it’s possible they maintain the same strategy at least in the short-term. The tactics worked for the most part, and what they could surmise is that execution will be refined. SMB will also be playing with a renewed sense of energy, more so with the room for error becoming less and less.
To be fair, San Miguel has been riding the hot hand and in Game 1, the Beermen made 42 percent of their 3-point attempts compared to the 30 percent of Bay Area. However, even shootouts will at times be won in the trenches. The Dragons were right to keep going down low as not only did it work for them (66 percent shooting from inside the 3-point arc), but it allowed them to negate the production of June Mar Fajardo (11 points, eight rebounds, and four assists).
There’s reason to expect that Fajardo will have a big game in this series, especially as the Beermen continue to integrate him following his long layoff following throat surgery. From SMB’s perspective, that Fajardo had limited production also points to their ability to hang with and even take a big lead over Bay Area.
The fact that the Dragons chose to deploy Andrew Nicholson over Myles Powell points to their view of approaching San Miguel by reinforcing their frontcourt. Matching up size-wise and preventing any easy baskets inside was a must, considering how Fajardo easily does things some PBA big men cannot. It’s safe to say that Bay Area would rather lose on a contested jump shot than a broken play that ends in favor of the Beermen.
The San Miguel Beermen would definitely want to have that opening semifinal game against the Bay Area Dragons back, but teams Iive and die by their decisions in a game’s crucial moments. Strategies are typically good in themselves, but what matters more is the execution and at times, this lesson is on display oncourt.
This series is obviously far from over and they have what it takes to win, but the Beermen are in for an uphill climb against an opponent that won’t let up.