SAN Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria insisted there was no intention to confuse Alaska over the injury and eventual return of June Mar Fajardo in their PBA Philippine Cup Finals series.
The SMB coach had issued varying statements regarding Fajardo's status, even declaring that his injured prized ward would only be available if the best-of-seven series goes the distance.
But Fajardo surprisingly played in Game Five on Wednesday night and played a key role in a San Miguel victory, sparking talk that Austria had all along been trying to catch the Aces off guard.
“That was not the game plan,” Austria insisted in a chat with Spin.ph after practice on Thursday on the eve of Game Six, when the Beermen try to force a deciding game and inch closer to becoming the first team to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
The champion coach has been stressing that he won’t field Fajardo until his left knee injury completely heals, but the reigning league MVP appeared to have overridden Austria’s decision.
It seems Austria didn’t mind.
“I told him I won’t force him to play – unless he really wanted to,” the SMB coach said. “He’s still not a hundred percent, but he said win or lose, he wanted to finish this conference playing.”
The gambit appeared to pay off as the Aces looked surprised when Fajardo entered the game in the second quarter.
“Mukhang na-disrupt yung plan nila,” Austria said, citing an instance when the Aces fielded Sam Eman late in the second quarter only to be sent back to the bench just a possession later after Fajardo had already gone out.
Aces coach Alex Compton admitted being a bit surprised that Fajardo played.
“A little bit,” the Amercian mentor said after Game Five. “But I think we were prepared for it. But he’s June Mar.”
Fajardo shared the sentiment.
“Baka na-sorpresa rin sila, pero siguro expected na rin siguro nila,” the Cebuano slotman said.