June Mar Fajardo needed to warm up for 24 minutes before completely warding off the rugged Meralco defense en route to a 96-91 victory in Game 3 of their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup best-of-seven seminal series late Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Fajardo, a six-time PBA Most Valuable Player, took his sweet time in the first half before going full blast in the second to give the Beermen a 2-1 edge in their semifinal showdown.
He said he showed up prepared after Beermen coach Leo Austria warned him about the intense, physical defense that will be thrown at him by Bolts big men like Raymond Almazan, Toto Jose, Cliff Hodge and Noy Baclao.
“I already knew that they will get physical so I have to be ready,” said Fajardo, who registered a quiet six points in the first half before stepping on the gas in the second to finish with 21 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks.
“Coach told me to pass the ball and set up my teammates. If I get open, the ball goes to me.”
Austria said he likes what he saw.
In fact, when Fajardo was struggling offensively in the first, he made sure to get his teammates involved, giving CJ Perez, Jericho Cruz, Vic Manuel, and Chris Ross a bigger room to operate.
“He only scored six points in the first half because the defense was all over him. But it gave us an opening for his teammates,” Austria said, adding that seeing Fajardo not forcing his shots is a sign of growth and maturity.
“That’s a sign of maturity. We always talk about the post because he can’t win against three guys at once.”
Austria added that he was no longer surprised with the way Meralco defended.
“Meralco is well-prepared. They know what to do in the post and the pick-and-roll,” he said.
“They kept on coming back but we were able to anticipate what kind of defense they’re trying to do against June Mar. We know that their main problem is their post play and I was able to utilize it to the team’s advantage since they’re focused on June Mar.”