Opposing PBA teams knew all year long where to target a San Miguel team missing June Mar Fajardo's imposing presence inside the paint, but to what extent they'd be able to exploit the crack in that armor was perhaps a debatable question.
Rain or Shine on Tuesday may have provided everyone an idea.
The blueprint was simple for coach Caloy Garcia's wards in their season opener against the Beermen, who lost 87-83 and saw the Elasto Painters score frequently and efficiently inside the restricted area before nearly pulling off a comeback in the final minute.
San Miguel only allowed Rain or Shine to shoot 38.1 percent from the field and 20 percent on its threes (8-for-40), but the Elasto Painters made a living in the paint, where they scored nearly half their points (42) on 60 percent shooting. Of Rain or Shine's 44 attempts inside the arc, 35 came in the paint.
In the middle third quarter, when Rain or Shine built a 14-point advantage thanks to a 12-0 run, all four of the team's makes from the field came through layups.
"I think that's how every team feels, that it's easy to beat San Miguel mainly because we don't have June Mar Fajardo. He's always a problem of any team," coach Leo Austria said Wednesday during the team's media availability. "You could see it last night. They were very aggressive and very confident."
Garcia admitted attacking a Beermen interior that had no Fajardo manning the gates was "basically the game plan."
"Before when we used to attack June Mar, our big men would just shoot the ball from outside. Jewel (Ponferada), Norbert (Torres), Beau (Belga), they can shoot the ball outside. And since June Mar isn't there, we told the bigs to play a different role. Instead of popping out, just go to the basket," he said.
This isn't necessarily an indictment on San Miguel's bigs -- primarily Mo Tautuaa, who was actually one of the brighter spots for the Beermen in the loss. In 38 minutes, Tautuaa logged 17 points (7-for-15) and 11 rebounds and even dished out five assists.
"June Mar Fajardo and Mo Tautuaa are really different players, and you cannot compare them. But Mo can help us win some games and we have to support him every time he's on the floor. As far as his performance is concerned, he's really there. I know every game he'll be better and he'll keep on improving," said Austria.
Added Garcia: "I know the biggest factor is losing June Mar. But they still have Mo, and Mo poses different problems. He rolls hard to the basket, he's a strong player that you have to contain."
Still, the fact remains that San Miguel will have to plug the area where they basically bled points against Rain or Shine.
The Beermen will also have to ask for more from their guards; their performances may be an outlier since they haven't played competitive basketball in seven months, but outside Marcio Lassiter (20 points, 5-for-9 triples) and Alex Cabagnot (18 points, 6-for-13), other members of the backcourt in Terrence Romeo (11 points, 5-for-16, 1-for-9 threes) and Chris Ross (1-for-7 shooting) weren't particularly effective in their first game inside the bubble.
"San Miguel will always be San Miguel in having those guards -- Ross, Cabagnot, Terrence, Marcio. Having those four guys, any coach would love to have those players in their team," said Garcia.