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Beermen find their way around Bolts defense to level series

For June Mar Fajardo and the San Miguel Beermen, Meralco’s stifling defense has made the quest for another championship one of the toughest they had experienced.

For one night, at least, they found the antidote.

With some help from a pair of players that saw action for the first time in the series, the defending champions, a 111-101 winner on Wednesday, put themselves back on level terms with the Bolts in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals.

“Credit to Meralco, not only for the way it’s defending me, but the whole team,” Fajardo said after his 28-point, 13-rebound outing on the night he won the Best Player of the Conference for an astonishing 10th time at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Fajardo has spent the previous three games of the showdown for the biggest prize of the PBA season trying to solve the defense thrown at him by the Bolts, a ploy anchored on the likes of rookie Brandon Bates and veteran Raymond Almazan.

Fajardo seemed to have found the answer, and so did the rest of the Beermen.

CJ Perez had another key performance along with Marcio Lassiter with his three-point shooting and San Miguel breached the century mark for the first time in the series after averaging just 90 entering Game 4.

Perhaps the most crucial adjustment that helped that was the decision by coach Jorge Gallent and his staff to give Terrence Romeo and Vic Manuel significant minutes in the second half. The two had not played in the Finals until Game 4, which was held on the same day the country celebrated its 126th year of independence.

Trajectory change

Romeo had been bothered by a calf injury after the semifinal sweep of Rain or Shine while Manuel had to wait until Wednesday to get his number called.

Manuel and Romeo combined for 15 points, the former making good on his seven-minute stint to backstop Fajardo and Mo Tautuaa.

“I asked them if they can play at least 110 percent, and they did,” Gallent said.

Gallent believes the win could change the trajectory of a series dictated by the Bolts, but only if the Beermen continue to find their shots.

“In the first three games, they were having 16 more shots than us,” Gallent said. “If a team averages 16 more shots than you, that’s really hard to beat [them] and really hard to win.”

Chris Newsome produced a career-high 40 points, most of which came as the Bolts were attempting to cut multiple double-digit deficits in the second half; the closest the Bolts got was within two.

A completed comeback would have been a series-defining moment. Instead, Meralco will look to get back to the drawing board and find a way to regain control.

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