What we’ve learned from San Miguel and Magnolia after two games

It’s only been two games, but we’ve learned a lot regarding our two finalists for the Philippine Cup. Here are some takeaways from the 2018 Philippine Cup Finals so far:

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Ian Sangalang and Arwind Santos are the MVPs for their teams in this series

Value isn’t always equivalent to being the best, because if it was, we’d be talking about June Mar Fajardo (easily) and Paul Lee (arguably) for this segment. It’s not, so instead of talking about those two stars, we’ll be discussing the respective most valuable players of San Miguel and Magnolia for this series.

When we talk about getting Fajardo help, shooters are the first kind of players that come into mind because of spacing. That’s why Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot hold so much value for the Beermen.

Magnolia knows guys like Lassiter and Cabagnot are sure shots from three, so they’ve made sure to close out on shooters any time they’d receive the ball off a Fajardo post-up. They have pesky and quick defenders in Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon, so as a result, Lassiter and Cabagnot have had to work for their points more than usual this time around.

This is where Arwind Santos comes in. He’s such a unique physical specimen in the league, possessing of the length, foot speed and skill to make life difficult for opposing forwards. Just watch how he eviscerates the Magnolia defense from the top of the key:

Arwind easy drive

With the Magnolia defense keeping their eye on Fajardo, Lassiter and Cabagnot, Santos has much more space to work with to get points. It’s no surprise he scored the most points for San Miguel in Game 2.

For the longest time, Magnolia has been known for its guards, and for good reason. Lee is the most recognizable face, but guys like Barroca, Jalalon and even Justin Melton have made strong cases for themselves as key weapons in the Hotshots System.

Magnolia’s guards are definitely important, and we can see it with how they’ve constantly put Fajardo in pick-and-roll situations. Since they’re so much faster than the Kraken, they just blow by or pull up for jumpers to score. But the pick and roll isn’t just about the attacking guard, but also the big who set the pick and created the mismatch.

Ian Sangalang has been just that for San Miguel: a match-up nightmare that’s been a pain to defend for any of the Beermen bigs. He’s slowly been coming to his own, showcasing the blend of skill, strength and coordination, unique for bigs of his size. Just watch how he uses his strength against the wiry Santos:

Sangalang strong move

That’s not to say it’s been all Sangalang. It’s been a conscious team effort for Magnolia, and Sangalang has taken advantage of the opportunity presented to him through mismatches in the pick-and-roll and post-ups.

As awesome as Fajardo and Lee are, this series might ultimately boil down to how Santos and Sangalang perform the rest of the way. They’ve been nightmares for their respective opposing teams, and should remain aggressive for their teams to have a better shot at winning the Philippine Cup championship.

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Magnolia has to keep it gritty against San Miguel to survive

The trend in the first few games has been the Beermen taking a big lead. That’s why right now, it seems unlikely that Magnolia will be the one to jump out to a huge lead. The Beermen are just so much more talented and jacked with firepower that they can come back from big deficits in just a few possessions.

That’s not to say it’s hopeless for Magnolia. In fact, they already do have a blueprint to winning as showcased by the comeback they had against San Miguel during Game 1 of the Finals: Grit and Grind.

The Hotshots are built for a tough, defensive kind of game with the kind of personnel and system they have in place. They’re the best defensive team in the league, and it showed with how they shut down the Beermen during the fourth quarter of Game 1 to complete their comeback. They have the length to bother San Miguel’s scorers and a platoon of players to ensure that they have fresh legs to keep their defensive activity up.

They won’t beat the Beermen in a shootout, very few can. Magnolia will have to stick to their identity of being a defensive team, as it could mean the difference between do or die.

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Free-flowing beer is the best beer

As awesome as Fajardo can be as an individual force, the Beermen work best when their offense is flowing freely with their MVP as the monster they orbit around. Just watch how they work around the Kraken in this set:

SMB flow

Most San Miguel attacks start with Fajardo receiving the ball in the post, nothing different with what they did in this set. But the difference is how quickly the ball flowed in this set. From Junemar getting the entry pass, it almost immediately flows into a Junemar drop pass to the waiting Matt Ganuelas-Rosser.

San Miguel has terrific individual talents, that is a given. But the team works best when the offense is as free flowing as the beer in your favorite pub. It’s deadly and beautiful sight to watch.

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This won’t be easy for either team

Throw away your brooms, this isn’t a sweep. Magnolia made sure of that in Game 1. It also won’t be a walk in the park, especially for San Miguel who many perceived to be easy winners of their fourth straight Philippine Cup championship. As talented as they are, Magnolia is a gritty bunch who won’t give up and will take advantage of every mismatch possible.

How either team adjusts to whatever the other throws at them is obviously of utmost importance in this series. Magnolia will continue to take put pressure on San Miguel defensively to open up opportunities for them to get ahead. Will San Miguel fold? When the Beermen start to flow with their offense and shoot lights out, can the Hotshots go back to their senses and try to slow the game down by dissecting the Beermen offense?

Winning a championship is never easy. It all boils down to the little things, and how each team makes use of the opportunities given to them. It’s the Finals, so sit back, relax as two teams push each other again and again to their breaking point.

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