As uncharacteristic as it might have been for Beau Belga to repeat biblical references to describe Rain or Shine’s semifinal assignment, it was fitting considering the miracle the Painters might need to survive this one.
“Ours is a story of David and Goliath, according to coach,” said the bruising Rain or Shine forward shortly after his squad secured the last PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal berth with an 85-83 do-or-die victory over Blackwater on Thursday.
Goliath, of course, is San Miguel Beer, the powerhouse and talent-laden squad whose struggles early in the tournament seem like a distant memory with the way it has strung up wins to reach the semifinals.
But Belga knows how the bible story turned out.
And when they hit the court at Smart Araneta Coliseum at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, the Painters are hoping they can come up with the same ending.
“In that story, David triumphed. It wouldn’t hurt to dream a little, right?” Belga said.
Coach Leo Austria, meanwhile, is just glad to be in the semifinals after his Philippine Cup champions made a wobbly entrance to the midseason tournament.
“It’s really hard climbing to the next round,” he said, after needing to overcome No. 2 NorthPort’s twice-to-beat advantage after falling to No. 7 in the preliminary round. “We had the chance to be at No. 5, No. 4, but we dropped.”
“We got the worse scenario—No. 7. But perhaps this is a blessing in disguise because Ginebra is really playing their best game [now],” added Austria.
Arwind Santos, the Beermen’s most outspoken veteran, said that having gone through the cramming and the twice-to-win predicament has given his team a fresh perspective that should serve as fuel for their push for the second jewel in their Triple Crown bid.
“There’s a nice feeling to it—being at the seventh spot. There are just plenty of lessons to learn when you’re at the bottom,” the former Most Valuable Player said in Filipino.
They’ll be needing that mindset to go with their firepower, which took a hit after Marcio Lassiter suffered an MCL sprain against NorthPort and will be out for at least six weeks.
“I’m not saying I’m glad that he’ll be out,” Belga said of Lassiter, his former teammate at Gilas Pilipinas. “But it’s like taking off around 10 points from their score.”
The best-of-five series will also turn the spotlight on imports Chris McCullough and Carl Montgomery, who play contrasting styles and were both tapped by respective teams late into the conference.
McCullough, who had little to say in every post-game interview, always made it clear that his job is to help the vaunted club “take home the championship.”
McCullough is a former first-round pick in the NBA, but Rain or Shine’s Montgomery is less concerned about his counterpart’s resume.
“We can’t really focus on guys being in the NBA; everybody puts his jersey on and laces up his shoes just like each one of us,” Montgomery said.