June 23, 2018, 10:39 am
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Ginebra forced to tap Slaughter?

SAN Miguel Beer has Ginebra’s back against the wall but knows the perennial crowd favorite can push right back.

That explains why coach Leo Austria can’t warn the Beermen enough on the need to dig deeper and deliver what should be the lethal blow tonight in Game 3 of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals duel at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“If there’s one team na kayang bumalik from a 0-2 deficit, it’s Ginebra kaya nga I keep reminding my players na huwag mag-relax, to push even harder,” Austria said on the eve of the match.

After opening the best-of-seven series with a 102-90 victory last Friday and stealing a 104-102 overtime triumph only last Sunday, SMB will go into Game 3 with a 2-0 lead.

For the record, the Beermen are 9-2 when protecting a 2-0 lead in a race-to-four while Ginebra is 2-6 when faced with such a series deficit.

The Kings would not have been in such a hole had they managed to continue riding Prince Caperal’s breakout game as a surprise starter and hang on to a 15-point third quarter lead.

Once the Beermen got their acts together and Marcio Lassiter, June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos got really going, the defending champions got right back in the game.

Santos buried a shotclock-beating trey to force overtime before Lassiter took over with the last six of SMB’s points, including the game-winning follow-up off a Fajardo miss.

Lassiter wound up with 25 points on top of eight rebounds while Santos notched 11 and 10. Fellow starters Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot finished with 13 points each in helping backstop Fajardo’s monster game of 33 points and 19 boards. 

For naught went Japeth Aguilar’s 28 points and seven rebounds and Caperal’s career-high 26 points.

The biggest question now is whether Greg Slaughter, referred to by Ginebra coach Tim Cone as “the big equalizer” to Fajardo, would finally suit up and play after suffering a high grade sprain before the playoffs began.

Austria reiterated his team has always prepared for the possibility of the seven-footer seeing action.

“Iyon na lang siguro ang surprise na magagawa nila sa amin, pero ready kami for such an eventuality and ready rin kaming mag-adjust kung may iba pa silang gagawin,” related the five-time champion.

One thing that nags at Austria is the heavy minutes his starters logged in game 2, main reason why he only ordered light run-throughs yesterday.

“Mostly viewing and fine-tuning lang,” said Austria. “Kung ano mga mali namin at saka ang areas where we can improve on.”
 
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