PBA: Return of key players come at perfect time for semis-bound San Miguel
MANILA, Philippines–Having a roster that is almost at full strength could have not come at a better time as far as coach Leo Austria is concerned after San Miguel Beer breezed its way into the semifinals of the PBA Philippine Cup.
The Beermen welcomed back Jericho Cruz, Chris Ross, Robbie Herndon and even Austria last Wednesday when they put an end to the Blackwater Bossing’s unlikely entry to the quarterfinals with a 123-93 win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
San Miguel entered the playoffs as the top seed with a 9-2 despite dealing with the absence of Terrence Romeo, Ross and Vic Manuel due to injuries while missing Cruz, Herndon and Austria for the final two games of the eliminations due to health and safety protocols.
But Austria said the luxury of having a talented roster has enabled the Beermen to make up for their dilemma, and possibly a better team as they wait for their opponent in the best-of-seven semifinals.
“Since our [third] game [of the eliminations] against Magnolia, we didn’t have Terrence [Romeo], we didn’t have Chris Ross and we didn’t have Vic Manuel, but we kept on winning. And during that run, Mo [Tautuaa] got sidelined for two games [due to an infection], but we kept on winning,” said Austria.
“And that’s the beauty of having a deep bench. But now that we’re complete, I consider those as a blessing in disguise because all players, except for Terrence, were able to recover,” he added.
June Mar Fajardo and CJ Perez are among the primary weapons for the Beermen throughout their bid to get back the All-Filipino crown, but the rest of the production has been made by a bevy of contributors.
Marcio Lassiter put up 18 points on six three-pointers in eliminating Blackwater while a 15-rebound night epitomized the important part of Rodney Brondial in the Beermen rotation.
Ross returned from an eight-game absence due to a knee injury and dished out 12 assists, a sign that could see the multi-time Defensive Player of the Year play an important role entering the semis.
Cruz returned with 17 points while Herndon also came back by posting nine points and six rebounds, which could help SMB in the semis against either Meralco or Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
“It’s also a good timing for us because they’re fresh and they’re very focused on what’s ahead,” said Austria.