June Mar Fajardo was in an unusual spot come the last quarters of Games Five and Six of the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup Finals. The three-time MVP, who has always been in the San Miguel Beermen’s finishing line-up during games, was on the sidelines sitting.
Seeing the 6-foot-11 center saddled on the bench was a tactical move in the ultimate chess match between coach Leo Austria and coach Nash Racela. As the two tacticians have said before, adjustments will define the series.
Austria used a quicker lineup as a response to TNT’s tall ball scheme, which saw Charles Rhodes playing the five, Arwind Santos at the four, Marcio Lassiter at the wing, and the Chris Ross-Alex Cabagnot duo at the backcourt.
That tweak brought wonders to San Miguel later on. It was a move that not only caught TNT off-guard, it also propelled them to the top of the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup tournament.
Fajardo knows that, just like his teammates, he had to make a sacrifice. After averaging 14.3 points in 29.2 minutes in the elimination round, the five-time All-Star was limited to an average of 11.67 points in 25 minutes during the Finals series.
But at the end of the day, the soft-spoken giant has no qualms about it, singing praises for Austria’s adjustments and his teammates’ notable performances.
“Maganda yung pinakita ng teammates ko, yung combination na yun ni coach,” lauded the 27-year-old Cebuano of his teammates after San Miguel’s title-clinching win last Sunday. “Sobrang nakaka-proud sa mga teammates ko na nag-step up sila.
“Pinakita nila yung heart of a champion. Sobrang ganda ng game plan ni coach Leo at nag-work talaga.”
After stamping their class for the second straight time this season, the talks of achieving a rare Grand Slam feat have become louder. For Fajardo, he does not want to talk about it yet, but he made it known what SMB aim to accomplish.
“Sa ngayon, ‘di ko pa masabi. Gusto lang namin i-cherish yung moment na ito, magpahinga. Tsaka na namin iisipin yun. This conference, malalakas na ang mga teams. Kahit sabihin na maliit ang import, hindi pa rin sila biro,” said the five-time PBA champion.
“Gusto naming makuha yun.”