SAN Miguel Beer seeks to restore order in the PBA Governors’ Cup playoffs as it tangles with upset-conscious Meralco on Monday night for a spot in the semifinals at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The second-seeded Beermen have suddenly found themselves backed against the wall after suffering a shock 106-99 setback against the seventh-ranked Bolts last Saturday.
“We’re still fortunate na we still have one game to redeem ourselves,” said Beermen coach Leo Austria, whose powerhouse squad had been the tournament’s hottest team after compiling eight straight wins before losing their last two - the first in their last game in the regular season - to move on the brink of elimination.
The twice-to-beat Beermen try to live up to expectations this time as they take on the Bolts at 7 p.m. with the survivor earning the right to face third seed Rain or Shine in the Final Four.
“At number two, everybody’s expecting that it’s easy for us to get into the semifinals,” Austria continued. “But pag dating ng playoffs, lahat ng stats i-set aside mo na yan.”
“It’s playoff time and there are a lot of surprises,” the Philippine Cup champion tactician added.
One surprise was Meralco’s defensive-minded enforcer Kelly Nabong, who the Beermen failed to cover as he scattered 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 12 boards in 23 minutes off the bench.
“Defense is really the problem,” said Austria, whose team allowed the Bolts, as a unit, to shoot an efficient 52 percent (43-of-83) from the field.
SMB star Arwind Santos also lamented that his team failed to build on a promising start that saw them take a 13-point lead in the first quarter.
“Ang ganda ng start namin. Ang problema, nung pinasok yung second group namin, hinabol,” the starting forward said. “Gumanda 'yung laro ng Meralco at bumaba yung depensa namin.”
The bench crew led by Alex Cabagnot, Chris Lutz, and Jay-R Reyes let the Bolts come back as they turned the tables and gained a one-point halftime lead.
Ronald Tubid, SMB’s energizer, could’ve given the Beermen a spark, but an unsportsmanlike foul late in the first quarter forced him to sit in the first few minutes of the second perio.
“That’s only the second quarter,” Austria said. “We had a third and four quarter, so it’s not the problem. But it might be the turning point because we were leading and hindi nila na-sustain.”
“That’s why I was forced to let the starters play longer minutes,” added the SMB coach, who fielded AZ Reid (21 points on 9-of-22 shooting, 11 boards, six assists against five turnovers) for 47 minutes and June Mar Fajardo (30 points and nine boards) for 40 minutes.
The Bolts found the same production from Andre Emmett and plenty of help from Jared Dillinger, Gary David, Reynel Hugnatan, Sean Anthony, Cliff Hodge, and Nabong. And they hope to duplicate their efforts to complete the reversal.
“We got to show the same intensity we did, diving for balls, open shots, good passes,” Nabong said. “We just got to come out with a hundred and ten percent.”