Bench depth was — for pundits — the main concern for the San Miguel Beermen entering the PBA Governors’ Cup finals series against the Alaska Aces.
After a grueling duel against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the semi-finals and only less than 48 hours to prepare for the championship, the Beermen were supposedly the “tired” team entering Game 1.
Head coach Leo Austria has been very worried about his team’s energy level, and the speculation over whether the Beermen will have what it takes to counter the Aces grew when Austria fielded in Chris Lutz over Marcio Lassiter as his starting shooting guard for Game 1 Friday night.
But after Lutz scored nine points in the opening quarter alone that included two triples, those doubts were shattered. David Semerad and Gabby Espinas then checked in during the second period, as Austria tried to get more from his second unit and the forwards delivered in stopping Alaska’s small ball.
The formula worked for Austria towards the end of the series opener, as the Beermen walked away with a 108-78 demolition of the Aces to gain the lead.
“That is my way of motivating players. If they are playing well in practice and showing the attitude, hindi sila mawawalan ng puwesto sa rotation,” he said.
“Naka-focus sila and I hope maging consistent sila sa mga ginagawa nila. Even Marcio, off the bench, okay lang sa kaniya. And he deserves a good rest. Lutz played better than his previous games and provided quality time.”
All five starters scored in double digits for the Beermen, led by AZ Reid’s 32 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. June Mar Fajardo added a double-double after finishing 18 points and 17 boards, while Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, and Lutz combined for 42.
Off the bench, Semerad was a plus-8 in eight minutes as he countered the Aces’ small ball with Romeo Travis at the 5. JR Reyes was a plus-5.
“The guys have been stepping up all year. We have a really deep bench and guys like Jay-R [Reyes] and Gabby [Espinas] are starters on other teams. Everybody just has to be ready. It’s the finals,” Lutz added.
“They played great defense. David played great defense like in our finals in the Philippine Cup. Gabby, we can always rely on him. Anybody can be an X-factor. I know I don’t get a ton of minutes but I just have to do my job.”
Reid later on shared his teammates carried the fight for him as he struggled early in the ball game.
“Without my teammates, I am nothing tonight, they set the tone early and I followed them. They did not follow me. I followed them. I started slow offensively but they told me to keep pushing,” he said.
With the series looking to boil down on which team has the most pairs of fresh legs, the Beermen have shown they have key weapons off the bench