San Miguel Beer enters yet another PBA Philippine Cup title series starting Friday to try and put a lock on the distinction of being the best all-Filipino team of all time.
The Beermen have beaten the best teams in their run of titles in the last three seasons, and with Magnolia showing that it is one of the best sides this year, the Hotshots are the ones standing in the way toward San Miguel’s stab at an unprecedented place in history.
No team has even won this conference four straight years, and with the Beermen healthy and driven to perform, they are—as in the last three years—installed as the solid bets in this best-of-seven series that starts at 7 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum on Friday.
“We’re used to the pressure; the players are used to the pressure,” San Miguel’s Leo Austria said when asked if gunning for that piece of league history would add weight on the shoulders of the Beermen.
“This team has been through a lot and it made them tougher,” he added. “That (failed) Grand Slam (bid) last season was one of them, and we all learned from that.”
Magnolia is back in a title series for the first time since its Grand Slam in 2014. The franchise’s dynasty ended after that, and, interestingly enough, San Miguel’s started after Austria took over.
The Hotshots needed to really work hard on making it this far after several close calls last season, needing to endure NLEX for six physical games before prevailing and doing it without their best post defender in Marc Pingris.
They will also come into Game 1 off just two days’ rest, and after giving San Miguel scouts a glimpse of their best in the last two games against the Road Warriors.
“It’s the Finals, we have no choice but to be ready mentally and physically,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said, though he wished to have had more time for his players to rest.
San Miguel has had five days’ rest, something which Austria feels could work both ways for them.
“We will lose some momentum, unlike them (Hotshots) who will be playing right away after a good game (against NLEX in Game 6),” Austria said. “But the rest could also work for us, because my starters averaged 36 minutes in the semifinals.”
“Yes, they (San Miguel scouts) saw our strengths in the last series. They have a good team in doing that,” he admitted. “But it will be our adjustments that they have no idea of. Those adjustments will be crucial.”
This title series stint is also a validation for Victolero, who got appointed to the post without any fanfare—and to the surprise of many—after never having a winning season as a coach in any level in the past.
He has gotten this Magnolia team to function like a well-oiled machine and has made the Hotshots the No. 1 defensive team in the conference.
Victolero has stuck with his belief, a belief that he said he has been instilling in his players’ minds ever since he took over.
“I keep telling them that if we want to reach the championship (series), we need to play defense,” Victolero said.
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