SAN Miguel Beer’s uphill climb in the PBA Governors Cup just got tougher, but no one in the SMB camp is about to shirk from the challenge.
In fact, the Beermen are now more determined than ever.
“This is a test of character,” said SMB coach Leo Austria. “In these circumstances, kahit wala ka ng nakikitang light duon sa dulo ng tunnel, it’s something that could develop the character of the team.”
June Mar Fajardo wholeheartedly agree, saying: “Trials lang ito para sa amin. Dito ma-te-test ‘yung character namin. Hindi pa naman kami out, so kailangan maging positive lang kami sa mga nangyari. Positive lang kami sa game, positive ‘yung approach namin sa Sunday.”
Fajardo was referring to his side’s quarterfinals duel with Ginebra, a matchup forged after TNT beat SMB 114-109 last Wednesday to take third at the end of the elimination round.
The loss relegated the Beermen to fifth and in a twice-to-win handicap against the fourth-ranked Kings.
Also holding win-once advantages are top-ranked NLEX against No. 8 NorthPort, No. 2 Meralco against seventh seed Alaska and TNT against the sixth-ranked Magnolia Hotshots.
The SMB-Ginebra duel should hog majority of the limelight since the Beermen are only one loss away from losing their Grand Slam bid.
Things could have been starkly different had there not been a fight among Arwind Santos, Ronald Tubid, Kelly Nabong and import Dez Wells during practice last Sunday.
That forced SMB management to hand out an indefinite suspension on Santos, Tubid and Nabong, a decision announced before the TNT game.
Wells escaped punishment, but only because he has reportedly already left the country last Tuesday.
Austria welcomed the management decision. “That’s what the organization stands for, ” he said.
“We have to do something that could give us some reminders that nobody is above the policies of the company,” added Austria, also saying the incident should stress the overriding team-first policy of the franchise.
“Maybe a minor setback, but moving forward I think it will help us a lot because it’s a strong signal to everybody and the team that they cannot do something silly,” he added,
“Everyone should think of the team bago ‘yung sarili nila. It’s a strong signal for everyone.”
So do the ones coming from Ginebra.
The very same Kings spoiled the Beermen’s first Grand Slam bid under Austria back in 2017, needing just one game in their quarterfinals duel to dispatch the latter and eventually complete a back-to-back feat in the season-ending tourney.
It was also Ginebra that foiled SMB’s bid for a second straight Commissioner’s Cup crown in their 2018 finals meeting.
“It will be a tough match-up for us,” admitted Austria.
John Holland, tapped to stand in for Wells when the later got injured last month and is now SMB’s official import, aired the same wary view but remained generally positive.
“It’s a harder road now, but we still have enough talent to do it so I’m still confident in us,” said Holland. “I still think that no matter which team we play, we have a good chance. Now it’s just a little harder, (but) we just need to win two games. It’s alright.”
Like Austria, the former Cleveland Cavalier also knows the Beermen’s championship experience will also come into play in their quest.
“We have to put it together for one game, two games, one game at a time and get it done,” said Holland.
“It’s a tough situation but it is what it is. It’s the playoffs. We have to deal with all that adversity and just keep pushing and push through it. And I think we have enough talent on the team to do it, so I think it’s just about getting it done now.”