By Jonas Terrado
The back-to-back victories that put Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on the threshold of capturing the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals have changed the moods of Kings coach Tim Cone and San Miguel Beermen counterpart Leo Austria.
It was only last Wednesday when Austria was feeling a sense of confidence after the Beermen had taken consecutive wins by a combined margin of 63 points, leaving Cone feeling embarrassed.
Fast forward to Sunday and it felt as if Cone has a reason to feel comfortable despite feeling under the weather due to food poisoning.
“One of the toughest games I’ve coached in the Finals,” Cone said after Ginebra’s 87-83 win Sunday night in front of almost 17,000 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Austria’s voice, on the other hand, crackled at times as he tried to explain how things transpired late when the Beermen failed to score another point after taking an 83-78 lead with over three minutes remaining.
Having won in all six of previous finals appearances, Austria is perhaps dealing with the pressure of having to overcome the odds, at least for Wednesday’s sixth game at the Mall of Asia Arena where the Beermen will try and force a rubber match for all the marbles.
“I think the chance is still there. And I think the players will realize that there’s no time to be outfocused. There’s no time to relax. Our backs are against the wall,” he said.
Games 4 and 5 have seen Ginebra’s locals finally giving Best Import Justin Brownlee the support that was lacking in earlier games.
Greg Slaughter, LA Tenorio and Game 5 hero Scottie Thompson have made themselves felt in the two victories, even as Japeth Aguilar has provided his own contributions despite still nursing an injured Achilles.
“It’s a total team effort tonight,” Slaughter said. “Everyone contributed to get this win. Everyone played their role tonight. If one of us didn’t step up today like everyone, we wouldn’t have won this game.”
While the team and its fans are amped up about the prospect of winning their third title in the last six conferences, the Beermen are looking for ways to resolve their woes.
San Miguel’s locals were splendid in the first three games, with June Mar Fajardo and Christian Standhardinger being the most consistent players and the likes of Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter and Arwind Santos providing minor roles.
But Cabagnot could only make five points on 2-of-7 shooting in Game 5, Ross was 1-of-11 for three points and Santos missing all 10 shots for two points.
Despite the struggles, San Miguel had a chance to put it away with under a minute left and carrying a one-point lead, only for Fajardo to miss both free throws. That allowed Thompson to bank in the go-ahead basket with 36.0 seconds left for an 84-83 Kings lead, which the Beermen never recovered.
“Ang naglalaro lang sa isip ko dapat panalo kami. Pero di naman natin mapapalitan yung pangyayari. Bawi na lang kami sa next game (I thought we should have won the game, but there’s no way we can change the outcome. We just have to bounce back next game),” said Santos.