AS Alaska mounted another comeback in the second half of Game Seven on Wednesday night, no one was feeling the heat more than San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria.
“I was so nervous, natatakot na ako 'nun,” said Austria of the dramatic turn that saw Alaska overcome a 23-point deficit and take a 74-68 lead inside the final five minutes before a sellout crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
But Austria said the last thing he wanted to do was show panic before his players.
“I didn’t give up, because I am the leader of the team and I cannot lose my composure,” he added. "But sabi ko nga, I don’t have to show it to my players. Pag kinabahan ang coach, magkaka-effect yun, magkakaroon sila ng reason (ma-discourage).”
A loss would have been catastrophic for both the Beermen, who had thrice lost big leads in the Philippine Cup best-of-seven finals, and Austria, given San Miguel Corp's lack of patience when it comes to its coaches.
But instead of panicking, Austria bared how he tried to rally his players especially superstars June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos, who both played for not less than 45 minutes in the game.
“Luckily, these players didn’t give up. They showed their character. And now they are developing that character which we need in the PBA,” he said. “I am so thankful I have a lot of assistant coaches, they tell me what to do.”
“Yung mga panalo kasi nila sa amin puro come from behind eh. Pero sabi ko manalo matalo bahala na. This is just a game of basketball,” added the former PBA Rookie of the Year.
Austria bared he had braced to accept criticism had they lost.
“This is the job of a coach (to get the team back to the lead). I was ready to welcome criticism (from fans and critics that time) pero iniisip ko hangga’t hindi mo nadidinig yung final buzzer, it’s not yet over,” he said.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen. But whatever happened, I am accountable to the team. I don’t have to second guess the bosses,” he said.
Austria can now heave a sigh of relief after San Miguel pulled off an 80-78 victory, giving its rookie coach a first PBA title to add to championships he had previously won in the PBL and the Asean Basketball League (ABL).
That also means his job is safe.
“I am safe with my job. We won the championship today, I think they will have me back. I think I’ll stay,” he said laughing.
“Naisip ko nga rin na lagi silang nanalo sa amin after we lead by as much as 20 points. Sabi ko sa sarili ko kanina, 'Ayaw ko nang mangyari yun ngayong Game Seven. And God is good.”
Austria also justified his decision to play Fajardo and Santos long minutes in Game Seven. Santos played for 46 minutes and 41 seconds and Fajardo 44 minutes and 55 seconds.
“I told them: 'Guys, this is mind over matter, you have to sacrifice, this is a winner-take-all game.' And they responded,” he said.
“I thought, this is Game Seven, I don’t want to gamble anymore, except in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter where I gambled on Jeric Fortuna, kasi pagod na si Alex (Cabagnot) and the other guards are not doing well," he added.