After Finals featuring NBA first-rounders, SMB knows best route to Grand Slam glory
MANILA, Philippines–The first confetti had barely touched the hardcourt when the first whispers of Grand Slam talk rose inside the coliseum. It started with television commentators, rumbled along on the lips of the fans before it crescendoed in a booming declaration by a team official in the din of a championship celebration.
And then suddenly, it was all that Leo Austria could talk about. And everything he didn’t want to talk about.
“Let’s not think first about the Grand Slam. We’ll get [to talk about that] later,” said Austria.
Later came sooner.
“This is the second chance [for a Grand Slam],” Austria eventually said. The first, in 2017, ended in futility. Barangay Ginebra, with twice-to-beat protection in the quarterfinals, hardly needed the playoff bonus, destroying San Miguel Beer—and it’s triple crown hopes—convincingly, 104-84.
“[The team is] really looking for the Grand Slam. But as I’ve said before, it’s really hard,” Austria said.
And the pressure for Austria and the Beermen began immediately after Chris McCullough’s “it was easy” response to how difficult it was to win the Commissioner’s Cup.
It was easy because McCullough provided the Beermen with an NBA-level talent who, in a close out Game 6 of the Finals, spearheaded a masterful 102-90 disassembling of a team and its system that was built around an NBA-caliber import.
Terrence Jones was amazing the entire conference and TNT rose to the top seed of the tournament largely due to his triple-double heroics. His ability to dominate when needed and his penchant for finding the open shooter turned the KaTropa into a title favorite. Unfortunately, they ran into a talent-rich roadblock.
But it was clear that the success of the Finals protagonists was heavily anchored on their prolific imports.
And the pressure is on the Beermen to find another potent reinforcement who can complement their roster.
“Imports really matter in this campaign. If you don’t have a good import, it’s likely hard for you to win,” Austria said.
Don’t argue with him on this. Don’t unfurl his local depth chart.
San Miguel Beer was as talented and as deep in 2017—when the Beermen won the Philippine Cup and the Commissioner’s Cup—as it is now.
But in the Governors’ Cup, San Miguel Beer treated imports like Kia treats No. 1 picks. Tossed ‘em out. San Miguel started with Wendell McKines before replacing him with Terik Bridgeman after five games. After a 1-1 card with Bridgeman, the Beermen brought in Terrence Watson.
“June Mar couldn’t carry the team alone. He needed someone who could score alongside him,” Austria said. None of the 2017 Governors’ Cup imports could do that for the Beermen.
San Miguel did not boot out Watson. Didn’t have to. The Gin Kings took care of that. And the Grand Slam dreams dried up like spilled beer the morning after.
And as McCullough partied along Friday night, talking about being a champion and wanting to represent the Philippines as a naturalized player, San Miguel had one more look at the kind of talent it will take to complete this season’s Triple Crown mission.
“He’s NBA caliber, and you all could see that,” Austria said. “If you’re a first-rounder, there’s something really [special] about you.”
And the hunt for that special reinforcement began immediately, even before San Miguel’s celebration died down.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.