Austria says SMB may have 'best starting five,' but other teams have deeper lineups
Leo Austria hugs SMB guard Alex Cabagnot during the celebration. Jerome Ascano

SAN Miguel head coach Leo Austria played a dangerous game for most of the PBA playoffs when he opted to rely heavily on his starters.

Risking injuries and fatigue to his best five in June Mar Fajardo, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos, it's a gamble that Austria was willing to take.

"I've been criticized a lot before using these key players. They're averaging 36 mintues in the elim and in the finals it went up to 38 minutes," Austria said after the Beermen wrapped up a third successive PBA Philippine Cup championship with a 91-85 win in Game Five on Sunday night. 

"One thing na positive dito sa five key players, both on offense and defense, nagwo-work sila," he added.

[See Tim Cone admits: 'SMB simply overwhelmed us']

While he is aware of the risks involved, Austria said it is hard to resist going with a five that are not only among the best in their respective positions, but have also reached a special degree of cohesiveness.

"It takes a lot of sacrifices and discipline and understanding dahil it's not easy to develop a team like this, especially yung starters ko," Austria continued. 

"I keep on hearing that these five players, na this is the best starter in the league. Maybe not, maybe yes, but kung ang paguusapan ay ang camarederie nila at effort nila, i think they are," he added.

While relying heavily on Fajardo and Co, the multi-titled coach was quick to give credit to his bench for sticking with his plans despite seeing little action on the floor.

Guys like Gabby Espinas, Ronald Tubid and RR Garcia are all perceived to be 'starter quality' for some teams, but they gladly accepted lesser roles just for the sake of the team, Austria added.

"I'm thankful to the bench because very understanding sila, kahit sila hindi nagagamit, they keep on working hard in practice.

[See SMB completes title hat-trick after holding off Ginebra in Game Five]

While Austria agreed that San Miguel may have the best five in the league right now, he insisted the Beermen still do not have the depth that other squads enjoy.

"Sa ngayon tatangappin ko na, we're a powerhouse ... but sila lagi ang may full house."

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