MANILA, Philippines — If there is one coach who knows how flimsy a one-game lead is in a best-of-seven series, it's San Miguel Beer's Leo Austria.
Long before the Cleveland Cavaliers made NBA history and turned the 73-win Golden State Warriors into a meme by coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 finals, Austria had already steered the Beermen to a stirring comeback of their own.
Few gave San Miguel a chance in the 2016 PBA Philippine Cup finals, where the Beermen were playing without an injured June Mar Fajardo against a revenge-minded Alaska squad. They lost the first three games, and pulled out an overtime victory in the fourth. The Beermen then welcomed back Fajardo in Game 5, and went on to win in seven games.
That "Beeracle" continues to inspire San Miguel, but it also gives Austria a reason to be wary — especially now that his squad is playing a Ginebra team coached by a master tactician in Tim Cone.
"It's not safe," Austria said immediately of his team's 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven finals of the PBA Philippine Cup, which San Miguel secured after a 99-88 win in Game 3 on Wednesday.
"Alam naman natin si coach Tim Cone, he's really a great coach, very smart, and he can find ways," Austria said emphatically. "A lot of things can happen next game."
Austria knows the Gin Kings will head into Game 4 with a "must-win" mentality, saying: "They cannot afford to give us another win."
"There is a possibility na maka-recover ka (from a 3-1) deficit," he explained. "But at 3-1, talagang you're in a deep hole na, especially against us."
"We experienced that before, so we don't want that to happen to us," he stressed.
Thus, his own players are not putting too much stock on their one-game lead in the series.
"We're not looking at that," said Chris Ross, when it was pointed out to him that the Beermen were halfway to a third straight All-Filipino title.
"We're looking at Game 4, and we're taking it one game at a time. That's our focus. We're not looking at Game 5 or Game 6. We're looking at Game 4."
Fajardo, who dominated in Game 3 with 17 points and 18 rebounds, also pointed out that as much as Ginebra cannot afford to lose again, the Beermen also would not want the Gin Kings to get back on the winning track,
"Kailangan namin ipanalo ang Game 4. Ang hirap kapag naka-tabla," he said. "Baka 'yung momentum, mapunta sa kabila din."
"Sobrang hirap," added Fajardo. "Pero kailangan talaga. Kaunting tiis na lang, sakripisyo lang. Alam naman natin na hindi ganoon kadali makuha 'yung panalo, pero gagawin namin, makuha lang 'yun."
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