San Miguel Beer is back to a place it is most familiar with, and in getting there, the Beermen got just the perfect workout they needed.
“Phoenix pushed us to the limit. And we love it,” coach Leo Austria said on Thursday night, minutes after a 105-94 Game 5 victory that bundled out the Fuel Masters in their rugged semifinal series at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay.
“Hopefully this could serve us in our upcoming series as Rain or Shine and Magnolia are both very competitive teams,” added Austria after sealing his eighth title series appearance as the storied franchise shoots for its 26th title starting next week.
Up next for the Beermen would be either the Hotshots or the Elasto Painters, with Magnolia taking the first of two shots it has to close out Rain or Shine at 7 p.m. at Ynares Center in Antipolo.
Chris Ross had a sterling performance on both ends, scoring 24 points—his most in the series—while adding six steals, as the Beermen closed this half of the semifinals, 4-1, by winning the last two games.
“They really brought out the best in us,” added Austria in respect of their foes, the top-ranked team in the eliminations who won Game 3 last Sunday.
Alex Cabagnot had 22 points, 15 of them off triples, while five-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo completed a three-cornered battering ram for the Beermen by finishing with 17.
Tiny point guard LA Revilla fired 15 points and led a searing Phoenix fightback in the fourth quarter that just fell short as the Fuel Masters ended their most impressive conference in the league with a losing semis stint.
San Miguel’s entry to the best-of-seven title series will also mark the first time that two-time scoring champion Terrence Romeo will play in a championship playoff.
“Although he didn’t score that much [in this game], his two points [late] was crucial,” Austria said of the team’s off-season acquisition.
Meanwhile, try as Chito Victolero might, it’s quite hard to disassociate the Finals with another Magnolia victory over Rain or Shine.
“It’s not in our minds right now,” Victolero said after holding off the Elasto Painters, 82-74, on Wednesday night at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay. “The goal is to win the series and we will try to close it out.”
Leading 3-2, that goal can be realized at 7 p.m. Friday at Ynares Center in Antipolo, where the Hotshots will be shooting for a fourth straight win and send the Painters packing.
With two chances to wrap up their best-of-seven series, that’s how close Victolero and his crew are to the Finals.
Meanwhile, Gilas Pilipinas will play at least three friendlies before flying to the Fiba World Cup later this year, including one game in Russia against a yet-to-be-named European foe.
Coach Yeng Guiao can also start holding twice-a-week practices starting June and then will have his players practicing every day starting August as he can get his pool members from the PBA teams that will be eliminated from the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs.
Al Panlilio, the president of Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), told the Inquirer over the phone that two of those friendlies will be held close to the third week of August so that Guiao “could make adjustments based on what he sees in those games.”
Panlilio also said that the SBP has gotten an invitation from the Russian basketball federation to play there, where the Filipinos could see action for a maximum of two games against world-class opposition.