SAN Miguel Beer may have drawn first blood in its PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series against Phoenix Pulse, but coach Leo Austria is not one to relax.
In fact, Austria and his Beermen are bracing for a more spirited stance from the Fuel Masters in Game 2 Monday of their best-of-seven duel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
"You can never know what will happen. Phoenix is the No. 1 seed before the playoffs.
They're capable of bouncing back hard," said Austria following his side's 100-88 win in the opener last Saturday.
"You cannot count Phoenix out," added Austria. "Hopefully, makapag-prepare kami ng maayos and ma-execute ulit namin ng tama gameplan namin sa kanila for Game 2."
Austria uttered those words despite the fact his team has won all its last six best-of-seven series after taking the opener and needed no more than five games to finish four of those.
"Sana maging consistent kami at mangyari uli iyon," said Austria. "But lahat naman nag-tse-change. All we have to do is never mind all those records in the past. We cannot dwell on the past. We have to focus on our next game."
Even SMB veteran forward Arwind Santos said they cannot afford to let their guard down against Phoenix.
"Kahit nanalo tayo, hindi natin p'wedeng isipin na kayang-kaya na tapusin agad ang series," stated Santos. "Ganu'n pa rin, na 'yung respeto namin sa kanila mataas pa rin."
Phoenix coach Louie Alas expected no less from such a talent-laden and playoffs experience-rich squad like SMB, unlike his side which is on its first-ever semis stint.
"Sabi ko nga, parang national team iyang San Miguel," said Alas. "Sinabi ko rin sa players ko, na kahit mag-11-0 kami (in the eliminations), pagdating ng semis underdog pa rin kami against San Miguel. So iyon ang kailangang i-pa-realize ulit sa kanila."
Still, the Fuel Masters had their moments in the opener. They got off to a quick start and led by as many as six points. When the Beermen seized control late in the second quarter and posted as much as a 24-point spread in the third period, Alas' charges managed to whittle the deficit to as low as seven.
It's just that Santos boomed in a triple from way out, immediately restoring order within the defending champions.
Alas offered some positive takeaways from the defeat. One is how not to dig that deep a hole.
"Iyung klase ng team ng San Miguel, hindi mo p'wedeng bigyan ng 24, that's huge para mahabol mo. Siguro magpapalamang ka d'yan... hahabol ka, pero ma-fi-figure out nila adjustments. Ganu'n ka-beterano team na iyon. Grabeng mag-lead management," said Alas.
Another lesson learned is how to never let up on defense and try to match SMB's offensive might.
"If we will do the same thing, na may mga span ng game na magiging soft kami on defense, in two or three minutes, double figures ulit agad ang lamang sa amin. Kailangan we have to play good defense for 48 minutes," cautioned Alas.
"We thought na kaya naming talunin through shootout. They're the No. 1 offensive team in the league. No team can outgun them. So iyon ang i-po-post game namin bukas. We made it this far through our defense, not our offense. Kailangan maglaro kami sa identity namin."
Phoenix did manage to hold down June Mar Fajardo to a season-low nine points and SMB's prized center fouled out with still 3:49 to play.
But the other Beermen stepped up, with Alex Cabagnot finishing with 26 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter had 14 markers apiece while Christian Standhardinger chipped in 12 points and 16 rebounds.
Led by Cabagnot's five triples, the Beermen went 18-for-47 from deep, solidifying one of Alas' pre-game concerns.
"We're focused so much on this guy (Fajardo) na nakalimutan namin 'yung perimeter players nila na siyang sumu-shoot sa labas," said Alas.
"Ngayon malaki na yung problema ko," he added. "Magpi-prepare na ako kay June Mar, magpi-prepare pa ako sa perimeter nila."
"They have to pick their poison," stated Austria. (NC)