With their backs against the wall, the San Miguel Beermen had to respond.
Adversity loomed over the Beermen for much of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup and while these hurdles threatened to derail SMB’s campaign, their repeat bid remains alive.
Injuries to initial import Thomas Robinson and June Mar Fajardo spoiled the vaunted San Miguel lineup, while the early struggles with replacement import Diamond Stone and the absence of Beermen head coach Leo Austria due to health and safety protocols certainly threw a wrench into the team’s plans.
But then, whenever SMB has been thrown lemons, they’ve responded with some lemonade of their own.
San Miguel brought in Devon Scott to replace Stone, while the Beermen assistants led by Jorge Gallent have done their part to keep the ship steady. Moreover, Terrence Romeo made his much-awaited season debut and has slowly been getting his feet under him. With that, SMB was able to get a favorable spot in the opening round of the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup playoffs. After eliminating the Converge FiberXers, San Miguel was rewarded with a semifinal matchup against the vaunted Bay Area Dragons.
The Dragons, though, presented quite the challenge in what has been a challenging conference for the Beermen.
SMB had a big lead in Game 1, but let the contest slip away. A blowout loss in Game 2 then put San Miguel on the brink of elimination.
Game 3 was a relatively close affair and the Beermen fought their way through a 14-point deficit in the second quarter to stay alive for at least one more game. Bay Area had what was thought to be the proverbial dagger with Kobey Lam’s 3-pointer with 52 seconds left in the game. But SMB had other plans.
Defense was what helped keep SMB in the game, but it was San Miguel’s shotmaking that clinched it. Much has been said about what Scott has brought to the team thus far, but he knocked down two crucial free throws that cut the Dragons’ lead to one point. Simon Enciso continues to get comfortable with the Beermen and that will bode well for them even beyond this conference.
That Austria returned from a seven-game absence may or may not be a coincidence, but his presence on the bench brings SMB back to full strength at the right time. Moreover, when certain Beermen couldn’t find their shot, they found other ways to contribute. Marcio Lassiter couldn’t find his shooting touch in Game 3 and so he continued to stay involved in the passing game, finishing the Beermen win with five assists.
The Dragons have had their way in the paint throughout the series, but the Beermen have been able to stay close whenever their 3-point shots have been falling. Ball movement has been a major reason for that and when SMB allows Fajardo to work inside, they become much harder to guard.
Talks of another “Beeracle” have been brewing (no pun intended) after the win, but there is a game (or games) to be played. Stopping Bay Area from wreaking havoc in the paint will be impossible, but limiting the damage will be a more reasonable objective. This includes doing whatever they can to limit the Dragons’ production to mostly from Andrew Nicholson. Nicholson draws a lot of attention inside and the rest of Bay Area has somewhat taken advantage of that. The shots weren’t falling for the Dragon’s perimeter players and that should give San Miguel something to think about before Game 4. Staying out of foul trouble will be crucial considering how San Miguel’s depth has been one of the factors that have kept them in stride with the Dragons.
It was gut-check time for the San Miguel Beermen and they have thus far responded by extending the series by at least one more game. A win like that in Game 3 could be the spark that would resurrect their title chances, but building on the victory with sustained strong play would be when the rubber meets the road.