Eros Stock – What’s at stake in the San Miguel-Ginebra bubble match-up
(Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 29 when the San Miguel-Ginebra game was originally scheduled on Oct. 30. It has been updated to reflect the latest statistics and team standings).
Defending five-time champion San Miguel and current top seed Barangay Ginebra will have differing priorities when both teams clash Sunday (6:45 p.m. TV5, One Sports, P(BA) Rush) in the final stretch of the 2020 P(BA) Philippine Cup.
The two squads were supposed to play each other last Oct. 30, but the league temporarily halted play to prioritize laying out protocols for a safer bubble. At that point, the two teams bannered similar 4-2 records but were on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of play; the Gin Kings were on a two-game slide after a hot start in the first four games, while the Beermen shrugged off two losses of their own to ride a three-game winning streak.
Since games resumed on Nov. 3, the script flipped for both teams. Ginebra came back rampaging and scored three straight wins at the expense of Alaska, NorthPort and fellow league-leader TNT to seize solo lead, while the Beermen slipped to two straight losses at the hands of Phoenix and NLEX after resuming the conference with a narrow overtime win against Blackwater.
The stakes in this matchup are higher for SMB, now 5-4 in the standings. A win would help the team secure passage into the quarterfinals, but a loss could help other teams level with — or zoom past — the Beermen in the crucial stretch of the eliminations.
Even though the 7-2 Gin Kings have already secured a playoff spot, a win still matters since taking care of business in one their final two games could prove to be enough to officially land them one of four twice-to-beat berths.
Ginebra’s recent surge gave credence to coach Tim Cone’s statements early in the conference saying the Gin Kings wouldn’t fully hit their stride until past the midway mark of the tournament. Their shooting from long range during that streak (34.1 percent) are down from their usual average (37.6 percent, second-best in the P(BA)), but that hardly made a dent over their overall numbers — Ginebra still shot 47.6 percent, 1.1 points higher over their conference mark that already leads the league.
A lot of that had to do with their work inside the arc, particularly at the rim, where the Gin Kings have been hard to stop. They shot 64.1 percent in that area against the Aces, the Batang Pier and the Tropang Giga — all who employ at least one skilled rim protector. They got 45.3 points in the paint, accounting for almost half of the 94.6 points they scored during that span.
Defensively, Ginebra has been very stout. The team is allowing 88.9 points per game in the All-Filipino conference, second-least among all teams; during their three-game run, teams scored only 86.7 points, shot 40 percent from the field and made a ghastly 27.1 percent of their 3s. TNT’s top-rated offense, in particular, looked smothered and made only 29.2 percent and 5-for-41 shots from deep against the Gin Kings.
Stanley Pringle, whom Cone dubbed as the team’s closer, was basically a flamethrower during that stretch, averaging 25.3 points (57.4 percent on field goals, 57.1 percent on 3s) and dicing defenses from every area of the floor. He also grabbed 8.7 rebounds.
It also helps that Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio are slowly approaching peak form. Aguilar posted 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds on 58 percent shooting — about nine points higher than his conference averages so far — while Tenorio tallied 11 points and 7.3 assists in the last three, including an impressive 15 and nine outing against the Tropang Giga on Friday.
On the other hand, not a lot has gone right for San Miguel. After scoring impressive wins against Terrafirma, Alaska and Meralco to revive their hopes of reaching the playoffs, exhaustion caught up to a thin Beermen rotation that is scrambling to get itself together in the final two games.
As has been the case throughout their All-Filipino domination, the top-heavy Beermen have relied on the stars that continue to carry most of the workload. Frontcourt stars Mo Tautuaa and Arwind Santos, in particular, have been incredibly pivotal for most of the conference, though the duo’s play as of late hasn’t been ideal.
After averaging 21.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in their three-game winning streak, Tautuaa’s numbers dropped in the last two, where he only managed to tally 15.5 points and 2.5 rebounds. His low numbers on the glass, though, may have had more to do with his zero-rebound outing in just 23 minutes during a blowout loss to NLEX.
Santos, on the other hand, managed just 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in both losses. He also had no double-double in the last three after leading the league with five in the first six games. His shooting hasn’t been that encouraging as well, with the veteran even making just 1-for-11 threes against Phoenix last Nov. 5.
The guards are still carrying their fair share of the responsibility, though coach Leo Austria may have to squeeze a little more out of his backcourt guys to help them get into the playoffs safely. Lassiter is still averaging 15.8 points and hitting 40 percent of his threes in the Philippine Cup, though he missed Friday’s loss to the Road Warriors due to a strained calf. Alex Cabagnot is also still scoring in double figures (13.7 points), and while Chris Ross is still trying to find his rhythm inside the bubble (7.5 points, 26 percent shooting), his playmaking (4.2 assists) and disruptive defense (2.3 steals, second in the league) have proven to be reliable as ever.
San Miguel’s defense hasn’t been up to standards, to put it lightly. In the last two losses, the Beermen allowed 117.0 points on 47.7 percent shooting. They also gave up 17.5 3s on 38.8 percent shooting and weren’t able to compete on the glass, allowing Phoenix and NLEX to outmuscle them there (59.5 rebounds given up). They still scored 96.5 points on 11.5 threes per game on the other end, but that wasn’t nearly enough to compensate.
It’s entirely possible that the one-day break could give the Beermen enough leeway to correct their lapses on defense. For them to barge into the playoffs, that has to be the case; shutting down Ginebra’s scoring and ball movement (24.2 assists, second in the league so far) is incredibly important.
Ginebra, though, still has other ancillary weapons in Aljon Mariano and Scottie Thompson. Both players had quiet outings against TNT on Friday, but the two basically gave the Gin Kings added dimensions on offense in the two games before that. Mariano had 14.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists against Alaska and NorthPort, while Thompson averaged 11, 8 and 7 versus those two as well.
Exhaustion might be a factor, too. Only two players (Pringle and Thompson) are averaging 30+ minutes for a deep Ginebra rotation; SMB, on the other hand, have five, and two of them (Lassiter and Santos) are fifth and sixth, respectively, in minutes played per game among all players.