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    Leo Austria braces for 'championship-caliber' TNT as SMB shifts historic four-beat bid into high gear

    Mar 6, 2018

    SAN Miguel Beer braces for a dangerous TNT KaTropa side as it shifts its historic all-Filipino championship bid into higher gear at the start of its PBA Philippine Cup playoff campaign on Tuesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

    The Beermen, gunning for an unprecedented fourth straight PH Cup title, finished atop the standings at the end of the eliminations to carry a twice-to-beat advantage in the first round of the postseason.

    But the defending champions face a perennial contender and rival in the Texters, who still had to go through a playoff against Phoenix to catch the last bus to the playoffs.

    “Alam natin malakas ito eh,” SMB coach Leo Austria said ahead of their 4:30 p.m. encounter. “Kailangan mong paghandaan itong mabuti dahil championship caliber itong team na ito eh.”

    What makes the Texters more dangerous is the addition of Jericho Cruz, who has averaged 17 points, 3.5 triples, three boards, three assists, and two steals in 29 minutes in two games as a starter right away since being acquired from Rain or Shine in a trade.

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    “Lumalim 'yung bench nila, and Jericho Cruz is one of the key players in any team,” Austria continued of his former Adamson ward. “That's why I'm really worried about this team.”

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    But Austria believes that when the going gets tough, that’s when the Beermen get going.

    “Yung team naman namin eh, pagka malakas ang kalaban, lumalakas din eh,” the SMB coach beamed. “Pagka mahina, medyo sumasabay kami. And I hope na 'yung ego tsaka 'yung pride ng mga players ay talagang mag-prevail dahil some of the games namin eh, 'yung pride nila ang umiiral eh, ayaw nilang patalo. Maybe because of our experience in a lot of championships.”

    The Beermen are also eager to get back on the winning track after suffering a 95-80 loss to Rain or Shine to the end the eliminations with eight wins in 11 games.

    But SMB and TNT’s most recent results hardly matter as it’s a whole new ballgame in the playoffs.

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    “Galing kami sa talo at the end of elims, ito naman galing sa panalo, alam mo after ng game na ito, lahat ng stats wala na 'yan, back to zero lahat 'yan,” Austria said. “So kung sino 'yung gustong manalo, I think 'yun ang magpe-prevail.”

    Second seed Magnolia, the other twice-to-beat team that proves to be SMB’s biggest challenge to its four-peat bid, tries to finish off GlobalPort in one game as they face off in the second game at 7 o’clock.

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