SMB starts defense of Philippine Cup crown


MANILA — The San Miguel Beermen opened the 43rd season of the PBA and their bid for a fourth straight Philippine Cup championship with a methodical 104-96 dismantling of the Phoenix Fuel Masters Sunday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

All five SMB starters scored in double digits led by reigning fourth-time MVP June Mar Fajardo who registered 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 16 rebounds, four assists, and four huge blocks.

Alex Cabagnot sizzled for 22 points, four dimes, and two boards, while Marcio Lassiter unloaded 20 markers, including four three-pointers, on top of five rebounds and four assists.

Chris Ross added 16 points, nine assists, and six rebounds, while Arwind Santos chipped in 14 markers, 11 boards, three steals, and two assists.

Jeff Chan led Phoenix with 18 points off the bench, including five three-pointers, one of which kept the Fuel Masters’ upset hopes alive after they cut down SMB’s lead to 85-80.

However, the Beermen responded with a roaring 18-4 blast to pull away by 19 points, 103-84, with 2:41 left.

Matthew Wright added 12 points for Phoenix while Gelo Alolino, Justin Chua, and Willy Wilson chipped in 11 markers apiece. The loss spoiled the PBA debut of new Phoenix coach Louie Alas, who was the former assistant coach of the Alaska Aces.

Meanwhile, the PBA announced that Chito Narvasa resigned as commissioner just minutes before the start of the league's 43rd season. The league added that media bureau chief Willie Marcial has been named officer in charge until a new commissioner is named.

Narvasa’s resignation put an end to the worst crisis the PBA has faced. It all stemmed from Narvasa’s decision to approve the controversial trade with the KIA Picanto that allowed SMB to grab 6’8” Fil-German standout Christian Standhardinger as the top pick overall of the last rookie draft. KIA had owned the right to draft first but exchanged that right for SMB bench-warmers Ronald Tubid, JR Reyes, and Rashawn McCarthy.

Narvasa’s approval of the deal angered seven members of the 12-team pro league, citing favoritism on the part of the PBA commissioner. However, the five remaining members of the league sided with Narvasa, triggering the crisis that at one point threatened to scrap the scheduled opening of the new season.

Narvasa’s resignation, effective on the first day of 2018, resolved the issue.

Games Wednesday: Kia Picanto vs. NLEX Road Warriors and Magnolia Hotshots vs. Alaska Aces.