MANILA, Philippines – San Miguel head coach Leo Austria gave all the credit to his players after their tremendous stand in Game 4 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals which saw them outlast the Alaska Aces, 110-104, in overtime to avoid a sweep.
The defending champion Beermen were staring at an 11-point deficit with 3:29 remaining but worked their way back in the game to take a 94-93 lead with 28 seconds to go. A buzzer-beating triple by Cyrus Baguio to force overtime briefly took the wind out of their sails, but San Miguel regrouped in the extra period and wound up outscoring the Aces, 12-6, in the extra five minutes.
"Our players didn't give up," Austria said after the game. "Sabi ko sa kanila, ayaw nila mawalis sila ng Alaska, and I think the players, nag-all out. Nakita natin 'yung heart of a champion."
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Austria was thrilled to see San Miguel finally get some breaks in crunch time, while this time around it was Alaska who fell apart after being so steady down the stretch in the first three games of the best-of-seven series. JVee Casio was blocked with 20 seconds to go in regulation, while RJ Jazul and Chris Banchero committed crucial turnovers in overtime.
"Kanina makikita mo, a lot of turnovers for Alaska. They panicked, because they were excited… They gave us some space to breathe," said Austria. "I think, the next game we will be focused again."
"You can never know what will happen. I said before the game, a miracle is just around the corner," he added.
Several heroes stepped up for San Miguel, notably Chris Ross and Arwind Santos, both of whom bucked poor play early in the game to stand tall in crunch time. It was Santos who gave the Beermen a 94-93 lead, while Ross' back-to-back lay-ups in OT tied the game at 102-all and paved the way for Alex Cabagnot's go-ahead three-pointer.
"I can see from his eyes, he wants to win," Austria said of Ross.
Of Santos, he said: "I always believe in Arwind, even though he's struggling especially in the three-point area… Earlier, he showed some semblance of a superstar, of a leader."
Santos had 11 points and 12 boards, while Ross just missed a triple double with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists. Marcio Lassiter led SMB with 26 points, keeping them afloat in the first three quarters whenever Alaska threatened to pull away.
Austria is now bracing for an Alaska fightback in the fifth game after seeing how they were able to prevent the balloons from dropping down at the PhilSports Arena.
"I hope ang momentum ay mapunta sa amin, but we have to prepare hard for the next game," said Austria. "I'm sure they were embarrassed. They were preparing for a big celebration."
Game 5 is set for Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
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