MANILA, Philippines – By their own coach's admission, the San Miguel Beermen have been quite lucky in the past two games of their best-of-five semifinals series against the Star Hotshots in the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
After a 105-109 loss in Game 1, San Miguel has won the past two games by the skin of their teeth. A missed shot by Paul Lee gave them a 77-76 win in Game 2; Marcio Lassiter then banked in a triple with 1.6 seconds left for a 111-110 Game 3 victory.
"Well, ang masasabi ko, talagang swerte kami," SMB coach Leo Austria said after Game 3 on Wednesday night. "But ang swerte, talagang pumupunta kapag magaling ang player."
[All I can say is that we're lucky, but luck will come when you have good players.]
That their past two games have a combined margin of victory of two points is of no issue to Austria. "Nanalo kami ng one point noong nakaraan, and again one point (tonight). It doesn't matter for us. Basta nasa amin 'yung W," he said.
[We won the past game by one point, and we won again by one point tonight. But it doesn't matter for us as long as we have the win.]
Nevertheless, Austria's players know that they cannot rely on luck alone to close out the Hotshots in Game 4 on Friday. All three games in the series have gone down the wire, and they are expecting another grind it out contest, with Star trying to do all it can to extend the series.
"It's going to be like that when there are two really good teams. We're not really going to get a blowout," said Chris Ross, who had 27 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in Game 3. "They have a really good import, they're a really good team (and) they're coached well."
There is one area of the game that the Beermen can definitely improve on, and they believe that if they do, then they can avoid another nervy finish against the Hotshots.
Rebounding has been a massive problem for San Miguel, due in large part to Star import Ricardo Ratliffe, who is averaging 25 rebounds per game on top of his 30.6 point average. Over the past three games, Star has out-rebounded San Miguel, 56.3-43.3 on average.
"They are killing us on the rebounds," lamented Ross. "We know that. We're trying to gang rebound, but Ratliffe is getting every single rebound."
In Game 2 of the series alone, Ratliffe collared 35 rebounds, leading to a 58-45 advantage on the glass for Star. Ratliffe had a relatively paltry 19 boards in Game 3, but Star as a team had 57-37 rebounding edge over San Miguel.
Twenty-two of Star's rebounds came on the offensive end, leading to 20 second chance points that allowed them to come back whenever San Miguel gained any separation.
SMB's own import, Charles Rhodes, grabbed only seven boards; June Mar Fajardo tied Ross for team-high honors with eight rebounds.
"That's one of the keys that we need to kind of get and reinforce and try to find a way to get some more rebounds," said Game 3 hero Lassiter, who had four boards in the game. "We're giving up a lot of extra shots, and that's like giving them easy buckets."
"If we can limit their rebounding, that would be a pretty great game for us," he added.
Ross agreed. "So long as we can bridge that (rebounding) gap, I think they will make it easier for us to win," he said. "I'm not saying it will be easy to win, but easier that what it's been."
Game 4 is on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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