LEO Austria usually plays down San Miguel Beer’s reputation as the most dominant team in the PBA this decade.
But with the mighty Beermen on the verge of cementing that lofty status, the humble SMB coach put his team on a pedestal for once, feeling they already have one foot inside the door in their quest for a historic fourth successive Philippine Cup championship.
“Their back is against the wall and alam naman natin na ang isang tao, kapag nasasaktan, ilalabas lahat ng makakaya,” Austria began after his team hacked out an 84-80 win in Game Four for a a 3-1 lead over Magnolia in the best-of-seven finals.
“But we’re smelling the championship and I’m sure my players will be different players come Friday’s game,” he was quick to add. “I hope ma-sustain namin ang energy namin and ang pagnanasa namin na makuha ang fourth championship.”
The Beermen continued to show that they can give the Hotshots a dose of their own medicine in Game Four by surviving a grind-out battle that Magnolia thrives in, erasing an early nine-point deficit before shrugging off a late threat by their upset-conscious opponents.
Still, Austria is bracing for an expected fightback by the Hotshots in Game Five on Friday night at the Mall of Asia for them to stay alive in the best-of-seven series.
“Meron pa silang natitirang hininga,” Austria said. “I think everything is possible. Alam niyo naman kung ano ang pinagdaanan namin.”
After all, the Beermen are the authors of the biggest comeback in playoff history when they fought back from three games down to frustrate Alaska in the 2016 all-Filipino finals.
“I think next game we should have a good start for them to give up, but knowing this team, Magnolia, they won’t give up until the last buzzer,” Austria said. “We witnessed naman dito sa game nila, they came out really prepared. They had a good game plan and they succeeded in the first 46 minutes, but last two minutes we stopped them.”
“I’m sure they will work really hard for next game but they only have one day to prepare,” he added. “It’s really hard but they will try because this is an opportunity for them to redeem themselves.”