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Four-peat bid off to fine start as San Miguel denies Phoenix to commence new PBA Season

Four-time reigning league MVP Junemar Fajrdo was in his usual potent self as he led SMB in its season opening win over Phoenix. Dennis Jerome Acosta/Dugout Philippines

By Patrick Sutare

QUEZON CITY—San Miguel’s quest for a historic fourth straight Philippine Cup title is off to a good note as the Beermen immediately took care of their first assignment of the year against a rejuvenated Phoenix team, 104-96, as the 43rd season of the PBA kicked off on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Maintaining their identity as the most star-studded squad in the league, the defending champs continue to live up to its billing. 

New season and changes are expected. For SMB, though, it was already apparent as it displayed a rather uncanny type of approach in its season opener.

Known to be a starter-centered team, coach Leo Austria stayed away a bit from the normal and made some noticeable tweaks— some of which were plays that didn’t focus plainly on pounding the ball inside to Junemar Fajardo and even changes in the rotation pattern.

The makeover did not take too long to yield dividends as it quickly resulted to a win.

Guys like Von Pessumal and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, as well as new acquisitions Billy Mamaril and Chico Lanete, were given early minutes in the game. Albeit not much in scoring, the move still proved to be a quality one for San Miguel as it kept the Fuel Masters on the catch up trail after trailing only once, 29-28, with nine minutes remaining in the second frame.

For the “Big Five”, on the other hand, more rest meant more gas in the tank to be more efficient. 

SMB’s illustrious starting unit remained as a lethal offensive group as it accounted for an earth-shattering 94 points of the team’s total with each scoring in double figures.

Despite his limited touches, Fajardo ramained to be a force to reckon with. 

The four-time reigning league MVP hoisted 23 points, 16 boards and four blocks to lead the Beermen. 

Alex Cabagnot poured in 22 points and four assists as Marcio Lassiter had 20 markers, four triples, five rebounds and four dimes. Chris Ross, meanwhile, filled up the stats sheet with 16 points, six rebounds and nine assists while Arwind Santos had a double-double outing of 14 points and 11 boards.

Playing its first game not just of the season but also under a new head coach in Louie Alas, Phoenix showed great promise despite the loss.

Anchored by the team’s vicious snipers of Jeff Chan and Matthew Wright, the Fuel Masters were able to pose a threat against the powerhouse SMB who at some point in the second half was poised to pull away if not averted by the timely outside buckets made by the two.

Chan led the scoring for Phoenix with 18 while Wright had 12. Rookie Jason Perkins was stellar in his debut as he scattered 10 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a steal.

After receiving a red alert with six minutes left and the lead down to five, 85-80, the Beermen dropped the hammer, unleashing a crippling salvo to leave the Fuel Masters out for good.

Box Scores:

San Miguel 104-Fajardo 23, Cabagnot 22, Lassiter 20, Ross 16, Santos 14, Pessumal 5, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Agovida 0, Heruela 0, Lanete 0, Mabulac 0, Mamaril 0, Vigil 0

Phoenix 96-Chan 18, Wright 12, Alolino 11, Chua 11, Wilson 11, Dehesa 8, Kramer 6, Jazul 4, Eriobu 2, Intal 2, Revilla 1

Quarterscores: 23-18, 47-37, 79-68. 104-96

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