BPC race frontrunners June Mar Fajardo and CJ Perez formed a tough duo leading San Miguel Beer back ahead in their PBA Philippine Cup Final Four playoff versus Meralco with a 96-91 win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Sunday.
Biding his time, Fajardo struck hardest at winning time, complementing Perez' game-long brilliance as the Beermen bounced back from their 99-88 loss in Game Two and seized the 2-1 lead in the race-to-four-games series.
But even with Fajardo piling up 21 points and 16 rebounds and Perez firing away four three-pointers and a total of 26 markers, the Beermen needed to play tough all game long to thwart the gritty Bolts.
"Napakahirap silang talunin. You can't blink as they're well prepared and they know what to do. We're lucky we have big men who can pound them at the post," said San Miguel coach Leo Austria.
Vic Manuel (11 points and seven rebounds) and Jericho Cruz (15 markers, two boards and two dole-outs) were among those with significant help for the Beermen who have a shot at going up 3-1 in Game Four Wednesday also at the Big Dome.
Fajardo played decoy in the early goings before going hard and piling up 15 points in the second half, including 10 of their last 16 markers.
"Pasa-pasa muna ako at hinayaan ko muna umiskor teammates ko. Sa second half, nakakuha na ako ng bola sa teammates ko at saka offensive rebounds," said Fajardo, attracting double and triple-teaming defense all game long.
"Hindi kayang talunin ang tatlong defenders. Kaya gaya nang sabi ni June Mar, nag-decoy siya muna," said Austria.
Perez helped open up Meralco's inside defense with his outside sniping that highlighted his game also marked by three rebounds and the same numbers of assists and steals.
The former Lyceum hotshot, running second behind Fajardo in the BPC derby, scored half of his output in the opening canto.
But the Hotshots stayed right behind almost all throughout until Fajardo presided over a run that gave them a 10-point lead at 83-73.
And that proved to be the opening the Beermen needed to complement their 121-97 rout in the series opener.
The Bolts were led by Chris Newsome with 16 markers and Cliff Hodge with his 13-rebound, 12-point double-double. (SB)
San Miguel 96 - Perez 26, Fajardo 21, Cruz 15, Manuel 11, Ross 8, Tautuaa 8, Brondial 4, Lassiter 3, Enciso 0, Herndon 0.
Meralco 91 - Newsome 16, Maliksi 15, Black 15, Hodge 12, Jose 9, Banchero 8, Quinto 4, Almazan 4, Pasaol 2, Baclao 2.
Quarters: 25-24, 46-42, 71-66, 96-91