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Even before the finals tips off, it is already quite depressing just to think people will eventually be seeing one of these mighty teams fall at the end of the series.
Alaska and San Miguel are simply the league’s most dominant teams today. The two sides are both on top of the league in several statistical categories, including offensive rating, defensive rating, net rating, rebounding, and assists. Both squads boost great systems, ultra-strong rosters with starpower and depth, and brilliant bench tacticians.
The Aces and Beermen are in their third finals match up over the past four conferences, with the latest installment in today’s hottest rivalry serving as a repeat of the same Philippine Cup finals (won by San Miguel in seven grueling games) a season ago.
But while this series is another Alaska-San Miguel affair, it certainly is a different one from the previous match-ups we’ve seen.
What makes this series different?
This is a different series from the previous ones, and let’s start with the biggest — literally and figuratively — of differences: there will most likely be no June Mar Fajardo for the entire finals series.
His presence is vital for the Beermen; for almost his entire career, Fajardo is unmatched because of his enormous size and that causes a lot of mess for the opposing squad’s defense. In the semi-finals alone, Fajardo averaged 31.3 PPG, 15.7 RPG, and 2.7 BPG in over 37 minutes per match. Rain or Shine did everything they could against the Beermen but his presence on the floor simply changes everything. He forced endless double-teams which in turn led to scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Without him, it would mean less resistance for the Alaska Aces. The Aces are one of the toughest defensive teams in the league. They have interior defenders in Vic Manuel and Sonny Thoss. These two have the strength to control the interior, secure rebounds, and push other teams’ bigs away from their comfort zones. Without Fajardo commanding attention, others must step up for the Beermen.
NEXT PAGE: X-Factors, Burning Questions, Prognosis >>
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San Miguel Beermen: The Frontcourt
Speaking of stepping up, San Miguel’s frontliners did in Game 6. Gabby Espinas, Yancy De Ocampo, and even Jay-R Reyes made impact to help the Beermen defeat the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, and Chris Ross were all aggressive in getting to the basket, and that should be the plan in every game of this series. Even Ronald Tubid and Chris Lutz should do their share on both ends.
Alaska Aces: The Backcourt
This is where the Aces need their backcourt to again be in great form for the entire series. RJ Jazul, Chris Banchero, and Chris Exciminiano in particular, were responsible for Alaska’s domination of Globalport from Games 2 thru 5. All gained bigger minutes on the floor; Jazul had 13.2 PPG and over 5 free throw attempts/game. Banchero upped his numbers to 12.8 PPG and 4.8 RPG. Exciminiano doubled his minutes and even scored a career-high in points.
If the Beermen’s backcourt will be relentless in this series, these names should also step up and play finals-level basketball.
“#1 Will the offense (San Miguel) vs defense (Alaska) storyline again be evident in the series this time, though?”
At first glance, yes. But San Miguel has to realize Alaska can dk a lot of damage on offense. Vic Manuel (16.4 PPG, 8 RPG, 52.7 percent FGs) is a better post player now. Who will stop Calvin Abueva? The Aces lead the league in pace. They run, and they get more possessions with excellent rebounders.
But execution will also be key for San Miguel.
Sure, June Mar will be questionable for this finals, but if the Beermen continue running the same system with great decision-making, they will still be difficult to stop. They have to keep the ball moving. Player movement is also vital. The offense must not stagnate for San Miguel. At the end of the day, they have good playmakers in Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, a handful of shooters, and floor-spacing bigs. They must be aggressive at all times. I expect Santos and Lassiter’s production to increase. I expect Cabagnot and Ross to show more leadership. I expect the second unit to give significant contributions, whether it’s scoring or just boxing out or diving for the 50-50 balls.
“#2 How different would it be without June Mar though looking at the series long-term?”
Alaska will have a relatively easier time getting to the basket and scoring inside if Fajardo is on the bench. That will be a dangerous theme for the series’ duration. It would mean less rotations on defense too, unless San Miguel gets its bigs to be dominating. But it remains to be seen how big of a problem it will really be.
“#3 Are the San Miguel Beermen mere mortals without June Mar Fajardo?”
Fajardo has carried the Beermen throughout the entire conference. But his strength, as Leo Austria would often say, is his teammates. This is the series where San Miguel should show it can still compete at a high level and show how deep they exactly are.
Alaska in 5.
There are really a lot of questions regarding this series, but taking into consideration everything we know so far, Alaska might just win it all. This is one of the best conferences Alaska has put up in recent years, and taking home the Philippine Cup title seals the brilliant run.
Without assurance regarding Fajardo’s condition up to this point, San Miguel will have to deal with many problems in this series. Sure, they are still a strong squad without him, but being able to flash a championship-caliber performance every night comes with a huge asterisk.
Alaska meanwhile, has managed to keep virtually the same core and improve it from within. This is the closest opportunity the Aces can get to add another championship banner to their colorful history.
Who takes this one? The Alaska Aces or the San Miguel Beermen? Sound-off in our comments section below!