It is the price Meralco has to pay in trying to limit June Mar Fajardo.
The Bolts, particularly those manning the middle, were once again hounded by foul trouble in guarding the PBA’s only six-time Most Valuable Player in Game Three of their 2022 Philippine Cup semifinal series, Sunday night.
None from the Orangemen fouled out unlike in Game Two but Cliff Hodge, Raymar Jose, and Kyle Pascual accumulated five fouls apiece. Raymond Almazan got whistled for three as they gave varying looks to Fajardo.
Unfortunately, their sacrifices went in vain. The 6-foot-10 center went on to finish with 21 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and 16 rebounds to lead the Beermen to the 96-91 victory — and the 2-1 series lead.
“We played hard, we played tough. Committed too many fouls again, I thought,” said Meralco head coach Norman Black as his team committed a total of 29 fouls that led to 30 free throws for SMB, 16 of which to Fajardo alone.
The champion mentor has previously acknowledged that managing their fouls is a problem especially in facing Fajardo. But there’s no other choice, he said, but to play scrappy and physical against the powerhouse crew.
“We have to be out there scrappy. We’ll probably end up committing more fouls as this series goes on. But at the same time, that’s the only way we’re going to beat them,” said Black.
“We have to be physical, play scrappy.
“And, try to control the boards. And, try to control June Mar because he’s really the axis that this San Miguel team rotates around,” he added.
Aside from that, Black stressed the need for his Bolts to shoot better to compensate for their size disadvantage. After shooting 44.2-percent in the previous match, his charges made just 32 of their 82 shots in Game Three.
“We didn’t shoot the ball that well tonight compared to the last game, so that made a big difference for us,” he said.
“We have to shoot the ball well against this team because they have such a big advantage inside.”
Defense, of course, is as important as well for Meralco. Black mentioned in particular their failure to cover CJ Perez, who top-scored for San Miguel with a game-high 26 points as he helped Fajardo close the game out.
“We can’t let Perez get away the way he got away tonight,” he said. “We really were able to control him in Game Two, but he really got away tonight right from the start of the game. So, we need to do a better job on him.”
The Bolts are now behind in the best-of-seven series but Black remains defiant as he still likes his chances against the only Philippine Cup 5-peat winners, whom he’s had some success against in recent years.
“It’s not over yet,” said the Grand Slam-winning bench tactician.
“It’s just been three games and it’s a best-of-seven series. As long as we don’t have injuries to key players then we will be back, ready to play in Game Four.”
The second game of each PBA gameday is live-streamed on SMART Sports.