Driven not to yield to an ‘invader,’ Beermen shoot to live another day in series with HK’s Dragons
San Miguel coach Leo Austria kept it simple when asked of the thing that keeps his crew going against a seemingly unflinching enemy which also understands the privilege and honor that comes with contending for—and winning—a Philippine Basketball Association title.
“We’re fighting for the pride of the Filipino people,” he said on Sunday, on the heels of a 98-96 escape from Bay Area that had the Beermen staying alive in the Commissioner’s Cup semifinals, albeit barely, with the Dragons still holding a 2-1 lead and with two more shots to close them out in the best-of-three series.
The Beermen will try to extinguish one of those shots on Wednesday when Game 4 is played at Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay City at 5:45 p.m. shortly after Barangay Ginebra tries to close out sister team Magnolia in the 3 p.m. game.
Austria and his charges will be an inspired lot, all thanks to that defiant stand on Sunday. But the seasoned coach and his prized big man say that they have to dig deep from where that splendid Game 3 performance came from.
“We need to give everything we’ve got. As ‘Pops’ would say, whatever’s left in our tank, we have to give it all out,” said six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, who finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds last Sunday.
“I’ve said this since I’ve been here: We have, probably, the deepest team in the league. We have guys who at any given moment can score the ball and play great defense,” said import Devon Scott, who also put up a double-double while also accounting for a game-winning block that night.
Barangay Ginebra hopes to turn the knob on the door leading to the championship series as the Gin Kings are now at full strength with pesky playmaker Nards Pinto back in the fold.
“There’s a bit of swelling left, but the pain is gone,” Pinto told reporters after playing his first game back from a right ankle sprain. “My concern now is just being comfortable.”
Ginebra head coach Tim Cone also feels that Pinto will be extra crucial as Magnolia’s Paul Lee—who played sparingly during the previous encounter—is expected to return for duty.
“He could be one of our primary stoppers on Paul,” the decorated mentor said.
Bay Area, a Hong Kong-based crew reinforced by Canadian standout Andrew Nicholson, is hoping to become the first guest club to win it all since the late Ron Jacobs steered Northern Consolidated—made up of future National team standouts and two naturalized players—won the 1985 Reinforced Conference.
“It would be a real honor to get to that grand final. And we’re close. I’m excited,” said Dragons coach Brian Goorjian.
The Finals, whether the Final Four ends in less than five games, will start on Christmas Day also at MOA Arena.
This will be the second straight year that the league plays on Christmas after NLEX took on Phoenix and Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia squared off last season which broke a spell that started in 2017.
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