By Jonas Terrado
The manner of how they advanced to the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals may not have been as conventional as before but the San Miguel Beermen would rather take it than watch others chase the ultimate prize.
The Beermen were pleased to be back in the finals for the seventh time in three years, even after three consecutive defeats to start the midseason conference and chances of missing the playoffs looming at the midway point of the eliminations.
“We’re very thankful because we’re able to catch up at the right time,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria after completing a semifinal series win over Alaska with a 104-99 triumph Sunday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Hopes were high that the Beermen will easily crown themselves anew after winning the Philippine Cup last April and top overall pick Christian Standhardinger finally joining forces with June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot.
“At 0-3, everybody was so scared and worried about our situation. So it happens that we changed our import with (Renaldo) Balkman and the players started to become inspired because of what he showed in the first game against Alaska,” he added.
Balkman came around in the conference’s third game in Dumaguete City, replacing the ineffective Troy Gillenwater. But a winning debut didn’t happen as the Beermen fell 105-103 to the Aces on Vic Manuel’s buzzer-beating runner.
The loss, however, seemed to be the turning point of San Miguel’s expected turnaround.
San Miguel won six of the next eight games to finish sixth in the elims at 6-5, enough to not only avoid missing the quarters but a twice-to-beat disadvantage.
The Beermen weathered a 23-point first half deficit to beat an equally-talented TNT KaTropa side in Game 1. San Miguel went on to sweep TNT before surviving a tough Alaska squad that embraced a no-quit attitude.
“We have championship pedigree,” Ross said. “No matter how we started, we righted the ship. So we knew that going down 0-3 was gonna be tough for us, and our goal in the eliminations was to try to get into a series no matter what and get out of that twice-to-beat disadvantage.
“And as long as we’re in a series, we felt comfortable with that. We played a really good TNT team, and we picked up momentum from that, and we played a really good Alaska team that was No. 2 in the eliminations.
“We were able to get them. Eliminations is a different story, playoffs (long pause) everyone’s locked in, everyone’s mentally focused, everyone’s physically ready, so playoffs is a different beast for us and we always welcome the challenge.”