Alapag, Alab eager to close out reigning champ HK Eastern at home in ABL semis playoff
Alab has gone 14-3 since Justin Brownlee and Renaldo Balkman replaced Reggie Okosa and Ivan Johnson as world imports. ABL photos

AT start of the season, it was tough to imagine San Miguel Alab Pilipinas being in this position – at home and a win away from making the Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals.

Alab hosts defending champion Hong Kong Eastern at 8 p.m. on Sunday at the Sta. Rosa Sports Complex in Laguna with a chance to sweep their best-of-three semifinal series.

That hardly looked achievable early in the season when the Philippine side opened its campaign with three straight losses over a period stretching a month and a half.

“A lot of credit goes to our guys. It wasn’t easy at the start of the season. Playing three games the first six weeks, it was tough, especially if you lose all three,” recalled coach Jimmy Alapag.

“We were a month and a half into the season, dead last. We’ve got a great group of guys. They’re very resilient. They work extremely hard during practice,” he added.

Of course, the import changes helped a lot, too.

Alab was at the bottom of the standings with a 1-3 record when they acquired Justin Brownlee and Renaldo Balkman to replace Reggie Okosa and the injured Ivan Johnson.

Alab’s been nearly unstoppable since then. The team finished the regular season in third place with a 14-6 record - 14-3 with the Balkman and Brownlee as their imports.

“Of course having guys like Justin and Renaldo coming on board after that slow start changed everything. These guys deserve all the credit for putting us in the position where we’re in now,” Alapag said.

He expects nothing but a tough grind as the defending champions fight for dear life and the former Gilas Pilipinas skipper understands that a win won’t be handed to them.

But with the their confidence at an all-time high and an expected rowdy crowd in Sta. Rosa, Alapag isn’t worried at all.

“Close-out games are always the toughest but there’s nothing like playing a close-out game when you’re playing at home. We’ll do everything we can to finish the series.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @CAJacinto11