MANILA, Philippines – For the San Miguel Beermen, the biggest difference in Game 3 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals was that they had June Mar Fajardo down the stretch against Barangay Ginebra.
Fajardo capped a subpar performance by fouling out in Game 2 with still over two minutes left to play last Sunday, and without their anchor, the Beermen lost, 118-124, to the Gin Kings.
On Wednesday's Game 3, however, Fajardo only committed two fouls, and was back to his usual dominant self. The "Kraken" had 17 points, making six of nine field goals and five of eight free throws, on top of 18 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and three blocks.
The Beermen took a 99-88 win that put them ahead, 2-1, in the best-of-seven Finals series.
"Noong second game, without June Mar, it was really hard for us to win," said SMB coach Leo Austria. "We had a chance noong second game, but siyempre, iba 'yung may June Mar sa loob dahil you have a go-to guy that can create openings for our shooters."
Fajardo was excellent in crunch time, converting the go-ahead and-1 play and then repeatedly making Ginebra pay for double-teaming him with crisp passes, including an excellent assist to Chris Ross who was right under the basket.
"We were able to execute some big plays, especially June Mar. I think that was the biggest difference, a big factor, that we were able to get the ball to June Mar," said Austria. "Na-execute niya (ang plays)."
Fajardo, for his part, said he simply adjusted to the referees whistles.
"Kailangan ko mag-adjust eh, hindi naman ang referee ang maga-adjust sa akin," he pointed out. "Kailangan ko mag-adjust, so tinuruan ako ng mga coach ko nung practice namin kahapon, kung paano ang positioning."
Austria was proud of how quickly his star center was able to learn and make adjustments, especially as Fajardo is still battling fatigue.
"Talagang 'yung composure niya, andoon," said Austria of Fajardo. "Even though maraming banging pa rin sa kanya at masakit pa rin ang katawan niya, in fact, maraming anti-inflammatory na ginagamit siya na spray dahil nasaktan siya eh."
"But he wants to win, and he needs this win very badly."
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