By Waylon Galvez
Back on a familiar territory in the PBA Philippine Cup finals, San Miguel coach Leo Austria is making sure that the Beermen remain hungrier and more motivated than ever as they aim for a fourth straight all-Filipino crown.
“Sabi ko sa mga players ko hindi lahat nagagawang maka-pasok sa finals, at lalo manalo ng championship. Ito kami ngayon may opportunity na mag-uwi uli ng title dito sa Philippine Cup,” said Austria.
“Nakikita ko naman sa mga players ko na sila din naman ay gustong manalo, motivated sila, gutom sila manalo ng championship. Sa tingin ko ay hindi mawawala iyon sa team,” he added.
Their other motivation?
They will become the first team in league history to win the most important conference four straight in a row.
SMB punched its return ticket to the best-of-seven finals by bundling out sister team Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 4-1, in their semifinals series, capped by a methodical 100-94 victory in Game 5 over the weekend.
In the process, the Beermen earned some precious time to recharge their bodies while waiting for their finals nemesis either upstart NLEX or Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok, which leads the series 3-2 with Game 6 set Tuesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
If the Hotshots win in Game 6, the finals will start Friday, but if the Road Warriors survive and extend it to a no-tomorrow Game 7 on Thursday, the series-opener of the Finals is set on Sunday.
In 2016, San Miguel defeated Alaska in the finals via a seventh game win. The following season, the Beermen made history by becoming the first team in the PBA to comeback from 0-3 to capture a 4-3 series victory for their second straight title in the all-Filipino conference.
Last season, the team became just the second team in the league to win the perennial trophy after it bagged the title with a convincing 4-1 triumph against Ginebra in the finals.
This time, Austria said he still expects the same tough grind, either against the Hotshots or the Road Warriors.
“Wala pagkakaiba yan, parehas naman na malalakas na team ang mga ito,” said Austria. “Very challenging pa din naman yan kahit na sino pa makakaharap namin sa finals. Mahirap pa din yan.”