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PBA: With perfect finals record gone, SMB needs to 'go back to basics'

Renaldo Balkman and Christian Standhardinger of San Miguel go for the loose ball. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines – It was truly a "very unusual feeling" for coach Leo Austria and San Miguel Beer.

After going six for six in the PBA finals, the Beermen lost a championship series with Austria as their head coach for the first time on Wednesday, when they were beaten by Barangay Ginebra in the 2018 Commissioner's Cup.

A 93-77 loss in Game 6 of the series sealed San Miguel's fate. Ginebra broke the game open in the third quarter and the Beermen had no solutions for the Gin Kings' defense. They scored only eight points in the pivotal canto, and wound up trailing by as much as 22 points in the loss.

"It's a very unusual feeling, dahil we never experienced this kind of loss, especially in the finals," said Austria, who lost a championship series for the first time as San Miguel's head coach.

"We're not perfect eh," he would add. "You win some, you lose some."

This is not the first time that San Miguel had lost a playoff series. Just last year, they were dismissed by Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinals of the PBA Governors' Cup, ending their hopes of a Grand Slam.

However, the finals always seemed to be SMB's comfort zone, especially after Austria took over as head coach. The Beermen appeared to have another gear that they can reach during a championship series, something that was in full display in their "Beeracle" run in the 2016 PBA Philippine Cup finals against Alaska.

Against Ginebra in the finals, they could not play at that level consistently. Back-to-back routs gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, but they were outclassed by the Gin Kings the rest of the way.

Austria had always maintained that they were fortunate to have reached the Commissioner's Cup finals in the first place, considering how much trouble they were in during the early goings of the conference. Their issues were in full display once more in the final two games of the best-of-7 series, however, when they could not get anything going against the Gin Kings' defense.

Still, their first finals loss could be a blessing in disguise. Austria admits that his team has been buying too much into their own hype recently and perhaps this is just the wake-up call that they need.

"Sinasabi nila na we're a strong team. Then all of a sudden, there's another team that's emerging as playing better than us. Pound-for-pound, they could match up with our personnel, and they have a very good import," Austria said. 

"We also have a very good import, but sabi ko nga, hindi perfect eh. We will take this as a lesson for us, and a wake-up call for us," he added.

The first thing they need to do, according to the coach, is to leave their previous championship runs in the past and stop believing that they are a "super team," a description that has followed San Miguel for several years now.

"Alisin namin 'yung anim na championship namin. Alisin namin 'yung paniniwala na nababasa't naririnig namin na we're a super team. 'Yung hype going into the finals na we're too much for our opponent," said Austria.

"We have to go back to the basics – the fundamentals of basketball," he added. "We have to prepare hard because every team in the PBA is too eager to beat San Miguel."

Dealing with that kind of pressure from the rest of the league got the best of SMB this conference, but it should only compel them to work even harder in the coming times.

"Hindi kami pwede maging stagnant," stressed June Mar Fajardo, who was one of only two SMB players in double-digits on Wednesday night. "Gusto namin, kailangan every conference, itaas din namin ang game namin."

"Siguro, wake-up call para sa amin ito," he admitted. "Sa ngayon, tanggapin namin 'yung pagkatalo."

Arwind Santos, who struggled in Game 6 in making only 2-of-11 attempts from the field, said the loss will sting for a while, especially as they failed to defend their crown and lost a shot at a Grand Slam to boot.

"(Pero) maganda na rin na nangyayari sa amin, kasi minsan nagkakaroon kami sa isip namin na kayang-kaya namin lahat eh," he noted. "So maganda na rin 'yan. Alam namin na may mga better team na tumalo sa amin, kagaya ng Ginebra."

"Ngayon, kailangan naming bumalik sa kung saan kami nagsimula," said Santos, echoing his coach's sentiments.

"Maganda 'to sa mga champion, sa mga taong nagtatagumpay, na hindi lahat nagtatagumpay, hindi lagi success," he also said. "Minsan masasaktan ka."

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