EVEN with less than 30 seconds left and San Miguel Beer up by double digits – the historic Game Seven of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals on Wednesday night all but settled, Leo Austria still refused to celebrate, sticking to the notion that it’s never over until the fat lady sings.
That has been the mentality of the SMB coach and the rest of the Beermen since they fell into a 3-0 hole in the title series against Alaska, having the belief they could overcome such deficit and make history.
They eventually did, pulling off the greatest comeback in league history by frustrating the Aces, 96-89, in the deciding game.
But for a while, the Beermen softened up on their stance when they knew nothing was already going to stop them.
And Austria still refused to have any of it – not even from eventual Finals MVP Chris Ross.
“We were leading by ten points and all of sudden binuhusan na ako ni Chris Ross and I got mad at him,” the affable mentor recounted. “Pero projection ko lang 'yun, dahil we're not yet finished eh.
“Ten seconds, you can never know what will happen – baka madulas yung player, pwede pa habulin yun, especially Alaska, there's a lot of players who can hit from the three-point area.”
True enough, the Aces managed to come to as close as five points after a three-pointer by Chris Banchero with seven seconds to go before folding.
“That's why you cannot relax until the last buzzer sounded,” said Austria, who definitely knows what he’s talking about, having been on the wrong end of what was previously the greatest comeback in the PBA when Ginebra fought back from 3-1 down to stun Austria’s Shell squad in the 1991 First Conference Finals.
“I told them (Beermen) before na whenever there's a chance, you have to work hard for it. I experienced those kinds of situations eh,” Austria said. “When I also coached in the PBL, we were down zero-two, and all of a sudden, nakaka-comeback kami. I keep on sharing it to the players na don't miscalculate your opponent especially in the endgame.”
But when the final buzzer did sound at the MOA Arena on Wednesday night, Austria heaved a sigh of relief and lauded Ross for his exploits.
“I'm happy for him because ever since I've been looking for a point guard who can be an extension of the coach sa court,” Austria said of the Filipino-American playmaker. “What we saw from him, he really understood his role.”
“Many people say that he can’t hit from the three point area, but because of his three points, I think that was the turning point,” he added of Ross, who hit four of his six triples. “From there, the players, na-encourage at nagkaroon ng kumpyansa, nainspire.”