By JONAS TERRADO
Games Wednesday (The Arena, San Juan)
4:15 p.m. – Kia vs NLEX
7 p.m. – Magnolia vs Alaska
San Miguel encountered some trouble against Phoenix’s newly-implemented pressure defense but was in control for most of the way to open its Philippine Cup title defense with a 104-96 victory last night that concluded a busy opener of the league’s 43rd season at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen’s talented fab five composed of reigning Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter and Arwind Santos picked up where they left off from last season’s fine form to spoil the debut of Louie Alas as Fuel Masters coach.
Fajardo, seeking a record fifth Most Valuable Player award, finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in the contest overshadowed by the events that transpired even before the opening ceremony formally start another season of the country’s premier sports league.
Earlier, the PBA Board of Governors announced the resignation of Chito Narvasa as commissioner that triggered the end of the impasse between warring groups in the offseason while appointing longtime league official Willie Marcial as Officer-In-Charge.
Narvasa, however, will remain in charge until Dec. 31 as per agreement between him and the board led by new chairman Ricky Vargas of TNT KaTropa. He was present during the inaugural game, sitting alongside members of the league’s technical crew.
Cabagnot scored 22 points, Lassiter went 8-of-17 from the field for 20 points, Ross added 16 points, six rebounds and nine assists and Santos contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“Phoenix played well in the pocket tournament and I believe they can beat any team sa PBA. It’s a good thing the players had the sense of urgency,” said Beermen coach Leo Austria, whose team is seeking to become the first PBA team to win four straight titles in an all-Filipino tournament.
The Beermen built a 19-point lead but saw the Fuel Masters, who forced 22 turnovers with Alas’ trademark full-court press, was able to pull within five, 85-80, on a Jeff Chan triple with 6:28 remaining in the game, prompting Austria to call a timeout.
Fajardo scored inside after the ceasefire, then Lassiter converted a three for the right corner, extending San Miguel’s lead to 90-80, 5:30 to play.
Chan finished with 18 points while Matthew Wright bucked a 4-of-17 shooting for 12 points with four assists and three steals.
SAN MIGUEL 104 – Fajardo 23, Cabagnot 22, Lassiter 20, Ross 16, Santos 14, Pessumal 5, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Mamaril 0, Lanete 0, Heruela 0, Vigil 0, Mabulac 0.
PHOENIX 96 – Chan 18, Wright 12, Alolino 11, Chua 11, Wilson 11, Perkins 10, Dehesa 8, Kramer 6, Jazul 4, Intal 2, Eriobu 2, Revilla 1.
Quarters: 23-18; 47-37; 79-68; 104-96.