The best thing to happen to the San Miguel Beermen in the last two weeks was having June Mar Fajardo back in the fold.
Fajardo returned from a fractured left hand last Friday against the Blackwater Bossing and the cellar dwellers of the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup were the perfect opponent for the seven-time PBA MVP to shake off the rust and build more chemistry with his teammates.
With a game that blends power and finesse, Fajardo pretty much took whatever the Bossing defense gave him, throwing easy passes to teammates and getting himself in the best position to score. His 11 points, nine rebounds, and six assists off the bench were indicative of a solid performance one game back from injury, but equally important was that the nine-time PBA champion was able to make big plays to give the Beermen a 125-117 victory over Blackwater.
Given all that they went through, SMB should be elated to be at 8-3 despite a midseason import change and the loss of their best player even when he’s not at 100 percent. In fact, they should be more than relieved given that they managed to take the second seed despite having identical records with the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, Phoenix Fuel Masters, and the Meralco Bolts. San Miguel’s coaching staff, led by head coach Jorge Gallent and active consultant Leo Austria may have needed to see how Fajardo and import Bennie Boatwright Jr. would fit together and it’s great to see that even in their limited time, both have played off each other pretty well.
That Boatwright Jr.’s game is more perimeter-oriented certainly helps, as it allows Fajardo to have enough space to operate. Boatwright Jr.’s offense has forced teams to reconsider how they defend the Beermen and the Bossing at times made the mistake of leaving Fajardo open or in a favorable matchup in the paint. Moreover, Fajardo has drawn double and even triple teams despite not being at 100 percent, so the gravity he draws is still there and that was enough for Boatwright Jr. to use to his advantage against Blackwater.
Having Fajardo gives the Beermen a lineup that will help their case against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, who will play a physical style of basketball against them. Their quarterfinal series begins this Friday so there’s a lot of time to prepare and recover before the games begin.
While the label of title contender may not stick, the San Miguel Beermen enter the postseason of the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup as the second seed, a position that seemed like a pipe dream when June Mar Fajardo went down last year. With Fajardo back in the fold and Bennie Botatwright Jr. looking like a great frontcourt partner, all signs are pointing towards a long playoff run. Unless of course, the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters decide to play spoiler.