Highly-touted Petron Blaze rookie June Mar Fajardo finally played true to form but San Mig Coffee wouldn’t allow him to fully hog the limelight.
Tightening its defensive screws in time, San Mig Coffee survived the Fajardo-led Petron surge in the fourth period to hack out a 90-84 win Sunday night and gain a share of the lead in the 38th PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Fresh from an eight-day break since pummeling Alaska 103-83 last Oct. 5, San Mig Coffee drew 18 big points from ace guard James Yap while PJ Simon added 17, highlighted by a big trey, and center Yancy de Ocampo preserved his 10-point outing with a crucial block to help the Mixers’ cause.
With the win, San Mig Coffee forged a two-way tie for the lead with idle defending champion Talk ‘N Text while the Blaze Boosters absorbed their second loss in three games following their 98-89 win over Barako Bull last Oct. 10.
“We shouldn’t have let them get back that close. But any win is a good win,” stated San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone. “I thought we lost some of our energy in the second half.”
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound Fajardo dished out a solid outing of 16 points and 13 rebounds while forward Arwind Santos collected 18–14 coming in the first 12 minutes–but those went down the drain, with the Mixers buckling down defensively in the stretch coupled with big offensive plays.
After enjoying a whopping 49-31 cushion at the tail-end of the second canto and a 70-57 buffer after the first 36 minutes, the Mixers suddenly lost their offensive groove in the face of the Boosters’ 12-5 fightback led by Jay Washington, closing in on at 69-75.
Washington, who clustered seven points in that run, incurred an unsportsmanlike foul off a speeding Simon at the 5:49 mark, forcing him to cool his heels on the Petron bench in a five-minute span.
Despite his absence, Fajardo gamely took the cudgels and imposed his will in the paint, enabling the Boosters to move within 80-84 with 1:45 left to play.
Simon, however, had other things in mind, drilling in a huge triple off a Yap kick-out pass for an 87-80 lead, 14 seconds later.
Joseph Yeo banked in a jumper off a Mixers turnover then Rafi Reavis split his charities to make it 88-84, time down to just 21.7 ticks.
Ranged against the Mixers’ tight defense, Yeo was forced to take a hurried shot then De Ocampo capped their decisive final stand with a huge block against Washington, leading to an unmolested lay-up by Yap.
“Everybody got a glimpse of what he can do,” said San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone of Fajardo. “He’s battling our big guys well and his energy brought his team back.”
Earlier, Alaska also leaned on its suffocating defense to turn back Barako Bull 102-86 for its first win in the two-week old season.
Despite sustaining a cut in the head, ace playmaker JVee Casio drilled in 16 of his game-best 24 points in the second half while Cyrus Baguio added 23 and forward Mac Baracael as the Aces made life miserable for the Energy Cola to gain their first victory in three starts.
Staring at a big 52-62 deficit early in the third, the Aces unloaded a crippling 29-3 onslaught, highlighted by 15 unanswered points, to post a whopping 81-65 into the fourth.
The Energy Cola, however, battled back mainly behind the exploits of Leo Najorda and Enrico Villanueva, dropping a 16-4 counterattack to pull within 84-85 with 5:46 remaining.
But that proved to be the Barako Bull’s last hurrah as Baracael, Baguio and Casio teamed up in a decisive 17-2 finishing kick to preserve the Aces’ win.
Despite their breakthrough win, Alaska coach Luigi Trillo was far from satisfied, saying: “Madami pa kaming kakainin. We want to work and keep improving. Other teams are super talented. But, overall, you want to do the hard work and try to outwork other teams.”
The 6-foot-5 Villanueva continued his playing renaissance with a team-high 22 points and 17 rebounds but those still failed to prevent the Energy Cola from dropping their second straight game since posting a 90-87 victory over Air21 last Oct. 3.
Alaska 102 – Casio 24, Baguio 23, Baracael 21, Dela Cruz 10, Eman 9, Jazul 6, Reyes 5, Laure2, Hontiveros 2, Bugia 0, Thoss 0
Barako Bull 86 – Villanueva 22, Tubid 16, Urbiztondo 14, Pennisi 14, Anthony 10, Najorda 9, Yap 1, Marcelo 0, Alvarez 0, Kramer 0, Cruz 0
Quarter scores: 21-25, 48-48, 81-65, 102-86
San Mig Coffee 90 – Yap 18, Simon 17, De Ocampo 14, Villanueva 10, Barroca 9, Pingris 7, Devance 5, Reavis 5, Gonzales 3, Ramos 2.
Petron 84 – Santos 18, Fajardo 16, Mallari 13, Lutz 13, Yeo 10, Washington 9, Cabagnot 3, Pena 2, Duncil 0, Miranda 0, Ildefonso 0.
Quarterscores: 24-21, 49-35, 70-57, 90-84