SAN Miguel coach Leo Austria has acknowledged the importance of managing June Mar Fajardo’s minutes, especially with the distinct possibility of their Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup semifinal duel against Rain or Shine going the full seven-game distance.
Austria admitted being concerned with the heavy playing time the 6-foot-11 center has been getting just two games into the Final Four showdown, which the Elasto Painters tied at 1-1 Thursday night following a wire-to-wire 105-97 win at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Fajardo has so far logged an average of 40 minutes per game, including 39 minutes in a losing cause in Game Two where he finished with 38 points and 17 rebounds.
“I’m really worried about June Mar,” Austria said after the game. “I don’t want him to play longer inside, but the situation needed him (to be inside).”
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The San Miguel mentor was referring to the final minute of the game when the reigning champion made one final stand against the Elasto Painters by cutting what once stood as a 25-point Rain or Shine lead to 100-95 on a split from the foul line by Fajardo.
“At the time, ilalabas ko na siya. But nagkaroon ng sign when we got a good run. Kaya iniwan ko na siya sa loob,” said Austria of the league’s back-to-back MVP, who averaged 37 points and 17.5 rebounds in the first two games of the series.
Rain or Shine counterpart Yeng Guiao also noted the heavy minutes Fajardo has been playing, which he thinks favor his team especially if the series goes the distance.
“If this series goes to a Game Seven, we’ll try to give him hell for seven games,” he said.
Austria said all Fajardo needs is a good rest at this point of the semis, but doesn’t see the Beermen veering away from their ever reliable bread and butter plays revolving around the 6-10 slotman.
“He’s our priority, he’s the problem of our opponent so bakit mo aalisin ang threat niya?” said last season’s Coach of the Year of the PBA Press Corps.
And more than the fatigue factor on Fajardo, Austria said the two pressure-packed three-pointers by Jeff Chan inside the final three minutes made the difference in the match.
“Actually ang pumatay yung two three-point shots ni (Jeff) Chan,” he said of the back-to-back trey by the Rain or Shine shooting guard that gave the Elasto Painters a 100-87 lead in the final 2:38.
“If not for that, we were in the game.”