SAN Miguel Beer may be the best team in the PBA this season and it may have the league’s most dominant player in June Mar Fajardo, but coach Leo Austria doesn't expect the road to a first championship for the franchise in three years to be any easier in the Philippine Cup Finals.
The top-seeded Beermen are coming off a 4-0 sweep of Talk 'N Text in their semifinal playoff, but Austria expects the two teams fighting for the right to face them in the finals - Alaska and Rain or Shine - to give them a tough time owing to their rich playoff experience.
Austria noted that Rain or Shine and Alaska have veteran players who have been in the “big stage” before.
“At this point, I can’t choose our opponent because these two teams are equally stronger and they have the experience, especially (Rain or Shine) coach Yeng (Guiao) who’s a great motivator, so kahit sino kalaban nila, mabibigyan ka ng tunay na laban,” Austria said.
The 56-year-old San Miguel coach said with more or less 10 days before the start of the best-of-seven finals, the Beermen intend to use the time to recharge after a bruising series against the Texters.
The team is currently on a two-day break.
“We are fortunate because we have time to prepare. Eh most probably, aabot sila (Aces and Elasto Painters) at the earliest is January 4, so if ma-stretch pa iyan ng Game Seven, at least we have at least two weeks to prepare,” he said.
Although Austria inherited a team that has time and again imploded in the playoffs last season amid reports of internal squabbles among players and a revolving door of coaches, the coach said the difficulties have forged a close relationship among the players.
“Nakita ko na ang mga players namin, they really worked hard. And what transpired is developing unity. Maybe, because nakita nila yung opportunity to go to the Finalis,” said Austria, who took over from American consultant and de facto coach Todd Purves before the start of the season.
“I’m happy to see everybody’s cooperating and the players are willing to learn and develop the chemistry.”
San Miguel compiled a 13-2 record overall this conference on the way to the Finals. One of its only losses this season was a 66-63 defeat to Alaska during the elimination round.
The Beermen whipped the Elasto Painters, 87-79 during their only meeting this season.
However, Austria refused to dwell on past victories, saying the Finals is a completely different situation.
“The Finals is different. Lahat ng stats, isantabi mo na iyan eh. But it’s the desire of the players, yun ang magpi-prevail kasi walang mahina or malakas dito eh,” he said.