PBA: With Grand Slam once again within reach, legacy at stake for Leo Austria and San Miguel in Governor's Cup
Santino Honasan on Aug 22, 2019 03:06 PM
"Kailangan pag-butihin ulit namin para sa another title, dahil itong conference na ito, it could give us our legacy," - Leo Austria
Once again, the San Miguel Beermen are the PBA Commissioner's Cup champions, but it wasn't without challenges.
Coming off a gruelling seven-game Finals series win against sister-team Magnolia to capture the 2019 Philippine Cup crown, the Beermen got off to a slow start in the second conference, dropping five of their first seven games before rallying and winning three of their last four to creep into the playoff picture in seventh place.
For head coach Leo Austria the turning point of the season was the arrival of high-scoring, ChickenJoy-loving import Chris McCullough, who helped the Beermen rack off three straight Ws that kept them in the race.
"Palagay ko yung pag-palit namin ng import, because nung si Chris McCullough dumating, naka-tatlong sunod na panalo kami," Austria told ABS-CBN Sports during San Miguel's victory party, Tuesday evening at the San Miguel Corporation Offices in Ortigas. "But yung last win namin against Rain or Shine in the eliminations, I think yun yung key, dahil yun yung nag-bigay ng assurance sa amin to get into the quarterfinals."
With a talent-loaded team like San Miguel and an import like McCullough, Austria believed that they just needed to get into the playoffs for them to have a fighting shot at the crown.
"Sabi namin na basta pumasok kami sa playoffs, we have a good chance to make it into the semifinals and the finals, and that’s what happened," he added.
SMB outlasted #2-seeded NorthPort who had a twice-to-beat advantage, before taking down #6-seeded Rain or Shine in four games of their best-of-5 series to clinch yet another Finals berth.
It didn't get any easier there, as they faced off against the top-seeded Talk N' Text KaTropa, led by Best Player of the Conference Jayson Castro and Best Import, former Houston Rockets starter Terrence Jones.
"Para sa amin, this was really a tough series for us," Austria said of the Finals. "Actually, before the series started, we were really worried, because alam naman natin na for the past few years, kami lagi yung favorite. Now, we were the underdog, and talaga namang napaka-lakas nung team nila."
After going down 2-1 in the series, it looked like SMB's title hopes were in serious jeopardy, especially with both losses coming by double digits, and their lone win being a 2-point squeaker in double-overtime.
As championship-calibre teams do however, the Beermen bounced back and took the next three games to close out the series in six games. For Austria, it boiled down to already knowing how to play against the KaTropa.
"What happened was, medyo sinuwerte kami, and in a series, napag-aralan namin yung mga ginagawa nila, and then maybe because of our championship experience kaya nakuha namin ito."
Now, after reaching the peak in the first two conferences of the 44th season of the PBA, the Beermen are one more title away from a Grand Slam, something that has eluded the San Miguel franchise since the 1989 season. Two seasons ago, the Beermen were in the exact-same position but failed to complete the trifecta after falling to Ginebra in the Governor's Cup.
Once again, it's shaping up to be another tough tournament for the Beermen, who haven't claimed the Governor's Cup title since the 2014-2015 season, but Austria is confident that they can finally etch their name in the annals of PBA history as just the 5th team to secure a Grand Slam season.
"Well wala naman kaming ibang pupuntahan kundi manalo ng Grand Slam, but hindi kami iniisip na longshot yung Grand Slam," said Austria. "All we have to do is to play one game at a time. Paghandaan namin every game dahil alam namin na kami ang target ng every team sa PBA."
The first step, Austria said, is to forget about their most recent championship and turn their focus to the one at the end of the upcoming conference.
"Yan ang sinabi sa amin ng management, especially mga bosses namin, after this championship, after the celebration, don’t think and don’t dwell on the past championship, because 0-0 ulit ito eh, so kailangan pagbutihin ulit namin para sa another title, dahil itong conference na ito, it could give us our legacy," Austria concluded.