ARWIND Santos blamed the lack of toughness in the playoffs. Fellow Petron veteran Ronald Tubid rued the team still lacked seasoning and a killer's instinct.
When it comes to an underachieving Petron team, guess the answer is always 'all of the above.'
A team with a powerhouse cast that made a lot of noise by winning its first seven games in the PLDT myDSL PBA Philippine Cup once again exited with a whimper, adding another gloomy chapter to years of agony and chaos which fans have come to term as 'Petron-ovela.'
The disappointment among fans, of course, is understandable, considering San Miguel's flagship ballclub has a proud winning tradition and has all the players a team can desire - from prodigious slotman June Mar Fajardo to wingmen Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, guard Alex Cabagnot and Santos.
Yet, this star-studded cast once again fell at the semifinal stage of the all-Filipino tournament against a Rain or Shine side that was without head coach Yeng Guiao (suspension) and had two of its top players, Paul Lee (ankle sprain) and Jervy Cruz (broken nose), playing injured in Game Five.
The emphatic 1-4 series defeat extended the wait for this once-glorious franchise, whose last championship came in the 2011 Governors Cup when Ato Agustin was still calling the shots for the Boosters.
For Santos, the league's reigning MVP, the latest debacle can be blamed on the team's inability to match the Elasto Painters’ physicality, a trademark of the Asian Coating franchise ever since Guiao took over the team almost three years ago.
"Siyempre sinasabi ng coaches sa physicality ng Rain or Shine, medyo natitinag ang ibang mga players. Pero kailangan ang physicality, umpisa pa lang ng season meron na kami, para habang lumalapit ang semis or Finals, mas nadadagdagan din ang physicality namin," said Santos.
The lanky Santos tried to stand his ground against the rugged Painters, leading Petron in five games in the semis by averaging 17.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 block a game.
However, it was also Santos who made the most hideous Petron boo-boo in the semifinal playoff, passing the ball to the referee late in Game Five. That turnover started a collapse that had Petron falling 1-3 down in the best-of-seven series - a hole very few teams had gotten out of.
At the end of the series, the 32-year-old forward recognized his team has enormous talent but just hasn't developed the toughness to slug it out toe to toe with a battle-scarred team like Rain or Shine.
"Eh ang Rain or Shine, di naman talent. Si coach Yeng nga nagsabi kung talent for talent, lamang daw kami. Eh yung kumpiyansa nila (Elasto Painters), saka physicality nila nandun kaya naging successful sila," said the former Far Eastern University star.
On the other hand, Tubid said the Boosters had numerous opportunities to take the momentum in the series but just didn't have the killer's instinct needed in a playoff atmosphere.
"Lagi lang kaming short, gaya nung Game Two saka Game Four, eh feeling ko amin na 'yun eh. Di mo naman masisisi. Lahat naman gustong manalo, wala namang player na gustong matalo," shared Tubid, now in his 11th year as a pro.
On the physical side of the series, the Iloilo-born Tubid said his Fil-Am teammates will just have to get used to the physicality since the playoffs is completely different from the elimination round.
"Skill-wise, magaling naman ang mga teammates ko na Fil-Am, pero siyempre, if you are a scorer, pipisikalin ka rin nila. Lalo na kapag magda-drive ka to the basket. Sa playoffs, aasahan mo na iha-hard foul ka para di ka maka-layup," he said.
The energetic defensive guard said given more seasoning, Fil-Am players like Lassiter, Chris Ross, and Lutz will get even better as they adjust to the PBA brand of play.
"Kulang lang sa gulang, pero made-develop din iyan," he added.
Still both Santos and Tubid are not giving up on the Boosters, who will be under more pressure to get the job done next conference when they switch back to the proud San Miguel name.
"Kinapos lang talaga sa huli. Pero move on na lang and keep improving na lang," said Santos.