Reigning champion San Miguel Beer (SMB) aims to accomplish the feat of winning its fourth consecutive Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup title this conference. The Beermen will face the Magnolia Hotshots in Game 1 of the best-of-seven finals at the Araneta Coliseum on Friday.
SMB mentor Leo Austria, 60, who is eyeing his sixth PBA title as a coach, said that they would remain on their toes despite the general expectation that the Beermen will sweep the series.
“That’s not true,” said Austria. “It depends during games and we know that they are an equally talented team and that they will find a way to solve their disadvantage. We are facing a Magnolia team whose goal is to win the championship. Mahirap kalaban ang gustong manalo.”
Austria also noted the rapid improvement of their rivals.
“They’ve always played in the semifinals in few conferences. It’s just a matter of time for them to become a contender because I know they’re going to be developed, so we have to be ready,” added Austria, who admitted that they’ve had a hard time beating Magnolia in the elimination.
Austria’s wards are cautious but are determined to make history.
“We want to make history,” said Beerman Marcio Lassiter.
“I know we have the advantage in terms of our starters because of June Mar (Fajardo) but in some other areas we’re just the same. So I believe they are really confident and that they will give us a good fight,” said Austria.
Fajardo, who is leading the Best Player of the Conference race, had an average of 20.8 points and 12.8 rebounds in five games of the semifinals.
“Pinaiyak ako ng Magnolia noong rookie year ko. Ayun ‘yung first championship heartbreak ko kaya babawi ako,” said Fajardo, referring to the loss of Petron Blaze (now San Miguel Beer) in the 2012 Governors’ Cup finals to San Mig Coffee (now Magnolia).
Magnolia mentor Chito Victolero, meanwhile, is just excited to coach for the first time in the championship round.
“I’m very thankful and excited facing coach Leo (Austria). It is a pleasure and I know he is more experienced than me so I will try my best to compete with him. And with the help of the players, sana makasabay ako. We have to prepare our scheme on defense and offense. We have to be on the same page every possession,” he said.
“This is a different fight but I’m very sure all my teammates will give their best,” said Magnolia center Ian Sangalang, who had an average of 17.5 points and 10 rebounds in the semifinals against Northern Luzon Expressway.
The Hotshots eliminated the Road Warriors after six games (4-2) in the semifinals.
Magnolia will be marching into the finals again since the 2013-2014 season after it won the Philippine Cup under Tim Cone.
Paul Lee, who is playing for the first time for Magnolia in the championship, said they need the heart of a champion for this campaign.
“Puso lang kami,” he said.