SAN Miguel Beer did not have the dream start it wanted in the PBA Philippine Cup bubble in Pampanga.
But the Beermen remained right on track in their bid to realize the ideal ending they are so sorely aspiring for.
The defending champion’s 120-99 demolition job on NorthPort last Tuesday pushed SMB into the tournament quarterfinals at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Sports Arena in Angeles City.
The Beermen’s second straight win to close out the eliminations gave it a 7-4 record.
Where they stand within the last eight would only be known after yesterday’s matches, but the mere fact his charges made it past the eliminations of the import-less tourney for the 24th straight time despite their manpower problems was enough to please coach Leo Austria. For now.
“We’re so happy to get into the playoffs after a week of really thinking what will happen to us,” said Austria.
“We felt that our team was really struggling because of a lot of injuries,” added Austria.
“But we’re so happy to make it to the quarterfinals.”
The task of stretching SMB’s record to six straight Philippine Cup championships remains monumental, however.
The Beermen are currently tied with TNT and Alaska for third, behind eliminations topnotcher Ginebra (8-3) and Phoenix Super LPG (703). Meralco, Magnolia and Rain or Shine, each at 6-4, may also enter the picture.
The league’s quotient system will be used to determine which teams will accompany the Kings in the top four and those in the lower half, which would have to win twice to advance to the semis.
Austria is already bracing his players for any eventuality.
“Let’s see,” he said.”The quarterfinals start Friday so kahit paano may konti kaming pahinga. What’s important now for us is to heal the injuries.”
Already playing minus June Mar Fajardo, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser and Terrence Romeo, SMB also had to make do with being out of game-shape when play resumed last Oct. 11, main reason why it got off to a 0-2 start in the bubble.
Making the necessary adjustments and finally regaining form, the Beermen finally won four straight. But Mo Tautuaa, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot have been hobbled by injuries, main toll of having to play a hectic schedule with little rest, resulting in back-to-back losses in as many days to Phoenix and NLEX, the last via a 90-124 rout
“Nakita ko talaga na walang energy, walang legs. So ipinasok ko na bench ko maaga pa lang, para at least makapahinga starters ko,” explained Austria of that loss to the Road Warriors last Sunday.
The ploy bore the desired fruits two days later as the Beermen beat Ginebra 81-66 to start their mini-revival.
There was also an additional bonus.
Paul Zamar has ably taken over the starting point guard chores while Von Pessumal, Russsell Escoto, Billy Mamaril and Bambam Gamalinda have had their moments coming off the bench, giving Tautuaa, Santos, Ross, Lassiter and Cabagnot the much-needed respite.
It is still his main men Austria is pinning most of his hopes on in the coming battles.
“This team, when it comes to the playoffs, they play differently. Lalo na ‘yung mga beterano,” said Austria.
“Unless they feel something about their physical conditioning, that’s my main concern,” added Austria. “But I’m sure once our PT gives them the go signal, I think they will give their 100% effort. Basta maka-recover lang sila. ‘Yun pinaka-important sa amin ngayon.”