Sweep cements SMB’s legacy
Leo Austria was quick to point out that winning the PBA Philippine Cup last March was sweeter than Friday night when his San Miguel Beermen completed just the league’s fifth title series sweep at the expense of the same Alaska Aces in the season-closing Governors’ Cup.
Never mind if the latest romp made him the hands-down choice for Coach of the Year and never mind if the league’s oldest franchise improved the all-time winningest mark of titles to 21.
What he said was that it was sweeter. Not more important.
“That (Philippine Cup romp) was sweeter because it was our first [all-Filipino title] in 14 years,” Austria said after taking time away from the celebration to talk to media. “The Philippine Cup is more prestigious because there are no imports.”
“But this one has helped us mature. We learned a lot in this tournament,” said Austria.
San Miguel needed to go through the literal big guns in the league in the playoffs, first surviving Meralco and the prolific Andre Emmet in the quarterfinals, Rain or Shine in the Final Four and the top-ranked Aces in the best-of-seven title series.
And that, Austria said, is why this last championship is more important than the previous one.
“We lost our first game against Meralco and were taken into a KO match,” Austria said. “We trailed by 24 points against Rain or Shine [in Game 1 of their best-of-five semifinal series] and came back. That (series) taught us how to be smart.
“We learned to work hard against Alaska, they made us a lot better team because they (Aces) are very good,” he went on. “This series taught us the value of hard work because it was very hard to beat them no matter what the score says.”
The final three games of the series had the Beermen coming from behind before winning.
It also helped that Austria had a pillar of power in June Mar Fajardo and a determined import in Arizona Reid to help them through.
But even then, ingredients don’t make for a potent brew if no one is able to mesh them into something good, something which Austria succeeded in doing.
Fajardo won a second straight MVP that night and Reid played with the there-is-no-better-import-here-than-me mentality to utterly dominate Romeo Travis and fulfill a pretournament promise of leading the Beermen to the championship.
“Romeo (Travis) is deserving of the Best Import award,” Austria said. “But AZ is our Best Import, and he showed us why.”
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