June Mar Fajardo had not even been at a hundred percent entering Game 5, but he missed “the game” so much that he was willing to take the risk.
Hours before tip-off, Fajardo had already been suited up and doing shoot-arounds for San Miguel. His presence alone fired up a team that had been used to a smaller huddle over the first half of the Philippine Cup finals.
Under a minute left in the first quarter, the San Miguel faithful made their loudest roar in the finals yet as Fajardo made his way to the scorer’s table.
— Tiebreaker Times (@TiebreakerTimes) January 27, 2016
Chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P!” circled the Araneta Coliseum and it erupted even more when Fajardo knocked down his first shot attempt.
“Finals na eh. Opportunity yan para sa lahat ng players na nakaabot sa finals eh. Kaya naman eh, pero managed ko yung minutes ko,” Fajardo said.
Fajardo finished with 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting in 16:28 of play, and hauled down 4 rebounds, not too bad for a player returning to the hardcourt two weeks after getting injured in the semi-finals.
“Nagstart ako makahawak ng bola, Sunday,” Fajardo shared.
His first appearance for the team after the injury was also that Sunday, when he received the Best Player of the Conference trophy although he was in street clothes. The big man had added he started doing shoot-arounds and other drills just this Monday.
In the process, Fajardo had overruled head coach Leo Austria’s earlier decision to let him rest until perhaps the series Game 7.
“Sobrang nanggigigil ako makalaro eh,” Fajardo added. “Gusto ko magsuit-up. Kaysa naman nasa sideline lang ako o naka-civilian lang ako.”
“We don’t want him to play but he insisted, ‘coach, I want to play.’ Win or lose, gusto niya tumulong,” head coach Leo Austria said after winning Game 5.
But the two had been in great communication throughout the game. Austria cautiously managed the minutes well and knew when to take the big man out; Fajardo was in control of his minutes too, always telling his mentor if he was experiencing some pain right away so as to not aggravate the injury.
“Sabi ko kay coach try ko pumasok ng maaga sa first half. Kapag may sumasakit, (ilalabas), pero so far lang naman. Kaya naman yung pain.”
With Fajardo back, the series has shifted to another level. The Alaska Aces still lead the series, 3-2, but the Beermen have surely gotten their confidence boosted even more. How Alaska will respond in Game 6 shall be answered in less than 48 hours.
“Well, we’re down 3-2 and this series is reduced to a best of 3 with us down 0-1,” Austria added. “They are giving is a chance to tie. Game 7 (if we win Game 6) is anybody’s game.”
Things have gotten more interesting.