MANILA, Philippines -- After failing to even make the playoffs in his first two seasons in the PBA, CJ Perez is now having tremendous success in just his first conference with San Miguel Beer.
Acquired in a blockbuster trade with TerraFirma in the offseason, Perez has been superb for the Beermen in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, and has elevated his game in the quarterfinals where they played against NorthPort Batang Pier -- a team led by his collegiate rival, Robert Bolick.
In SMB's sweep of NorthPort, Perez averaged 17.5 points, five rebounds, and two assists per game while shooting 44% from the field. He earned Player of the Game honors in Game 2 of the series, a 100-95 San Miguel win that secured their spot in the semifinals.
"Sobrang excited, first semis ko 'to," said Perez, who led the league in scoring in his two seasons with TerraFirma but never got to the postseason. "First semis, at speechless pero ayun nga, sobrang excited ako."
Making the achievement a bit more special is that it came at the expense of Bolick, who denied Perez a championship twice when they played in the NCAA. Bolick starred for San Beda University, and they swept Perez and the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates in back-to-back finals series in 2017 and 2018.
Their match-up in 2017 was particularly painful for Perez as Lyceum completed an 18-0 sweep of the elimination round, only to fall to Bolick and the Red Lions in the finals.
But in their first playoff meeting as professionals, it was Perez who emerged victorious.
"Unang-una kong nakabawi kay Robert ngayon, so ayun, maraming salamat Robert, at napagbigyan mo ako," said Perez afterward.
"Sobrang happy ako na nakarating ako dito, and sobrang happy din ako kay Robert na maganda 'yung nilaro niya," he added.
Bolick did not make it easy for Perez and the Beermen. He very nearly won Game 1 of the series for NorthPort, nailing a long three-pointer to give his team a late lead only for Alex Cabagnot to answer with the game-winning jumper in the closing seconds.
In Game 2, the SMB defense forced him to miss 12 of his 18 shots, but Bolick still scored 12 points and dished out 14 assists on top of his eight rebounds, while playing nearly 43 minutes.
Perez stressed that he and the entire San Miguel team have nothing but respect for Bolick, who has emerged as a candidate for Best Player of the Conference.
"Siyempre sobrang respect namin kay Robert kaya ganun 'yung depensa namin sa kanya. At kilala naman natin si Robert, kung paano siya maglaro, kaya kailangan natin gawin 'yung best effort para depensahan siya," said Perez.
Perez will be matched-up with another superb guard in the semifinals, where San Miguel will take on top-seeded TNT. The Tropang GIGA have been fueled by rookie Mikey Williams, who has taken the league by storm since being drafted fourth overall.
"Siyempre, bibigay lang talaga namin 'yung best effort namin sa game," Perez said of their match-up with the TNT backcourt. "Kilala naman natin 'yung Talk 'N Text. Talagang napaka-solid nila sa defense and offense, so kailangan namin paghandaan 'yun."
PBA, 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, San Miguel Beer, CJ Perez, NorthPort Batang Pier, Robert Bolick, San Beda Red Lions, Lyceum Pirates, NCAA