IF San Miguel wants to regain control in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals, then it has to figure out ways to protect the Beermen bigs from foul trouble.
At least that’s how coach Leo Austria looks at it as the TNT KaTropa managed to even the seven-game series on Wednesday with a 102-97 win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Charles Rhodes and June Mar Fajardo both had to finish the game outside the hardcourt after Rhodes got ejected with over a minute left in the game, while Fajardo fouled out with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter.
With the two taking turns on the bench, the Beermen’s usually sound defensive scheme on Joshua Smith took a hit, particularly in the fourth period where the TNT import scored crucial baskets and made some key plays off the double team.
“More or less you know what happened in the game. The big impact is with our big men, they got into foul trouble early. June Mar got two fouls already. We have a big problem cause if they’re in foul trouble, Smith can really dominate the shaded area,” said Austria after the game.
“In the last two games, we were able to limit Smith, pero tonight, he was scoring at will. That’s because of our foul trouble,” he added.
But it wasn’t just in defense where they took a hit.
Offensively, they also felt the absence of the two as Austria had to dig deep in the bench, fielding in Yancy de Ocampo, Gabby Espinas and David Semerad in some stretches of the game. Unfortunately, their bench failed to deliver some firepower, with the three combining for just three points.
“Yung support players namin were not able to produce a lot eh. That happened with our big men in foul trouble,” Austria said.
“When our big men went to foul trouble, nabago chemistry namin. Dapat one of them is in the game eh, pero since both of them are in foul trouble, hindi mo magamit talaga.”
The four-time PBA champion coach, however, was quick to credit TNT for making the proper adjustments following two straight losses in the series.
The KaTropa churned in a big lineup to start the match, with Smith starting, alongside Ranidel de Ocampo and Troy Rosario.
That played a huge part in disrupting San Miguel’s gameplan, with TNT’s big guys attacking San Miguel’s frontcourt early on ,forcing Fajardo to two quick fouls in the first quarter.
“I guess they really had a good adjustment into this game. For the first time they changed their starters. The substitution patterns are quite different and their adjustment is effective for them,” Austria said.
“They fielded in three bigs to attack the big men, pero dikit pa rin kami until the last five minutes. Sometimes I think it’s the breaks of the game,” he added.
But despite the loss, Austria remained confident that they are still in a pretty good shape heading into the pivotal Game Five on Friday at the same venue.
“Our adjustments are minor lang. We’re not able to execute our game plan fully. That’s the thing na we would like to tell our players. I think we will be okay in the next game,” he said.