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San Miguel marches onto the Finals; MVP Fajardo falls hard



The San Miguel Beermen are arguably this dominant team the past two years.

However, Friday evening, the defending Philippine Cup Champions might have lost the most dominant big man in this era as June Mar Fajardo was stretchered off the court. Nonetheless, the Beermen’s other MVP Arwind Santos stepped up as he helped his team maintain a fourth quarter lead en route to a 90-82 victory to eliminate the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters and set up a date with the Alaska Aces.

Entering this pivotal game the depleted Rain or Shine team did not have the services of Raymond Alamazan and Paul Lee due to injuries. In addition, Coach Yeng Guiao missed the entire first quarter due to traffic inconveniences. Despite SMB’s frontcourt duo of Arwind Santos and June Mar Fajardo already combining for 13 first quarter points, the surging Elasto painters took a three point, 19-16 lead after the first period.

San Miguel’s scoring slowed down in the first part of the next quarter, as their turnover numbers haunted them. On the other end, Gabe Norwood capped a 19-2 scoring spree to extend Rain or Shine’s biggest lead of the first half at 35-21. Notwithstanding a surprise 12-point half from the Painters’ Jewel Ponferada, Marcio Lassiter and Fajardo helped the Beermen slice the lead down to single digits at the end of the quarter.

San Miguel got momentum in the first part of the second half, tallying a 12-6 run to pull through within three. However, all were stunned as Fajardo fell down after a boxing out joust with Jireh Ibañez at the 7:11 mark. The MVP clinched onto his left knee and struggled to get up after the collision. Fajardo was stretchered afterwards and finished the night with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes.

After losing their primary weapon, the Beermen continued their third quarter rampage behind three straight baskets by Gabby Espinas. A tidal wave of energy was injected to SMB after losing Fajardo, as they pounded on the rattled Rain or Shine squad. Their defense picked up and a three-point play by Lassiter sealed the strong period, giving them a 70-63 advantage.

Yancy De Ocampo played a productive stretch during the fourth period as SMB’s center on the floor. Six minutes into the final frame, the Beermen threatened to pull away for good, as they led 82-69 behind relentless attacks from Lassiter and Santos. In the next five minutes, Beau Belga anchored Rain or Shine for one last rally and their team managed to slice the advantage down to five. Fortunately for the defending champs, they would book the last finals seat in the Philippine Cup with key stops late, in addition to series-clinching free throws.

Arwind Santos carried the work in 45 minutes of playing time with 15 points and hauled down 19 rebounds. Lassiter added 22 points notwithstanding a horrid 1/9 shooting from downtown.

After the game, Santos opened up that the Fajardo injury woke up their team, but hopes to have their dominant big to play with them in the Finals. “Sa totoo lang nung na-injure siya di namin maitago na nag worry kami. Si June Mar MVP namin,” Santos shared. “Alam naman na unstoppable siya na sentro. Nakakapanghinayang. Kaya yung game na to para sa kanya. Sana makalaro siya sa Finals.”

As a team, the Beermen towered over the Elasto Painters with more rebounds, 59-49. Moreover, they ended up shooting 43% compared to Rain or Shine’s 35% clip.

Game One of the Finals between the San Miguel Beermen and the Alaska Aces will be played on Sunday, January 17 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Scores:
San Miguel Beer (90) – Lassiter 22, Santos 15, Fajardo 14, Espinas 9, Ross 8, Cabagnot 6, Tubid 6, Arana 4, De Ocampo 4, Lutz 2, Reyes 0.
Rain or Shine (82) – Belga 16, Ponferada 14, Norwood 14, Chan 11, Ibanes 10, Cruz 6, Ahanmisi 5, Quinahan 4, Trollano 0.
Quarterscores: 19-16, 37-46, 70-63, 90-82.

Video courtesy of Sports5

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