After holding his ground against Star import Ricardo Ratliffe in their quarterfinals matchup, San Miguel Beer’s prized center June Mar Fajardo will have to deal with an even bigger rival in the mold of Rain or Shine reinforcement Pierre Henderson-Niles as their best-of-five PBA Commissioners Cup semifinal showdown gets going on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
But the 6-foot-11 Fajardo, the reigning two-time league MVP, admitted that’s the least of his concerns, saying the Beermen need to play as one, cohesive unit in their bid to keep their mastery of the Elasto Painters on their third consecutive semifinals meeting.
“Hindi naman 1-on-1 ‘yun. Kailangan pag-planuhan ‘yung Rain or Shine,” stressed Fajardo, 26, following the Beermen’s hard-earned 103-99 victory over the Hotshots in their knockout match last Wednesday night at the Big Dome.
After piling up a team-high 24 points and 13 rebounds in a 99-108 setback dealt by No. 8 Star in the series opener last Monday, Fajardo took the backseat offensively in the do-or-die showdown as he shot just four attempts from the field, making all of those, and split his charities from the line to finish with nine markers and eight boards in more than 33 minutes of play.
Although his latest production was far from his usual numbers, Fajardo is not one to complain. “Okay lang. Mas priority namin ‘yung import (Tyler Wilkerson). Sacrifice lang,” he said.
With Fajardo and the rest of the Beermen more focused on getting the job done defensively, the 6-foot-8 Wilkerson took care of the offensive load as he sizzled with 46 points on 15-of-29 shooting from the field on top of 17 rebounds, two blocks and a steal against a pair of errors in 48 minutes of action.
Asked if they are getting overly dependent on Wilkerson in terms of their offense, Fajardo said: “Okay lang ‘yun basta manalo kami. Walang problema sa amin ‘yun. Kailangan naming mag-sacrifice.”
Even San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria sounded wary of the 6-foot-8 Henderson-Niles, who has been averaging 11.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 block in three matches—all victories—for Rain or Shine, including a two-game sweep of crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra in their quarterfinal pairing.
“They (Elasto Painters) are really playing well. The last time out, their victim was Ginebra na mayroong malalaki ring tao. They are used to it and maybe that’s the reason why they have Henderson-Niles,” stressed Austria.
“Even though hindi sila nakakakuha ng malaking puntos du’n (Henderson-Niles), he is doing his job well lalo na sa role niya,” he added.
While Austria and the rest of San Miguel Beer coaching staff plot their game plan, Fajardo stressed his fellow Beermen need to recharge as they brace for an expected tough grind against Rain or Shine.
“Sa ngayon, kailangan namin ng pahinga kasi bugbog kami, lalo na ‘yung import namin,” said Fajardo, who is also hoping his banged-up knees should be better as he takes on Henderson-Niles and the Elasto Painters’ dreaded ‘Extra Rice’ duo of Beau Belga and JR Quiñahan. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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