IT SEEMS that nothing can stop San Miguel Beer from realizing a fifth straight finals appearance in the PBA Philippine Cup.
Phoenix is sure to try and is expected to go all-out in Game 5 of its best-of-seven semi-finals series with the Beermen Thursday night at the Astrodome.
But the odds, history and SMB's own grim determination are all against the Fuel Masters, down 1-3 in the series.
"I think mahirap na iyon, 3-1, although their chance is still there," said coach Leo Austria following his Beermen's 114-91 win in Game 4 last Tuesday.
"Mentally, we have to be tougher because this (Game 5) will not be an easy game," added Austria. "We will work really hard in the next game because we don't want to extend the series. It's not going to be easy because their conference is on the line."
Phoenix counterpart Louie Alas has already stoked the fire in his own team.
"We will not give up. Ang sabi ko nga sa kanila, kung me plano kayong mag-bakasyon ako last thing na gagawin ko dito is mag-give up, hangga't di natatapos ito," related Alas.
All indications point to SMB putting a quick end to the series.
In 18 previous times the SMB franchise was up 3-1 in such a duel, according to league chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III, the Beermen have won 17 times, 12 of them clinched in Game 5, including the last five.
Also, Mangonon added, PBA books show that 49 of 53 teams which took 3-1 leads in a best-of-seven went on to win the series.
The Beermen put themselves in such an enviable position after going to Arwind Santos and Terrence Romeo last Tuesday to get off to a quick start before practically putting the game on ice right in the third period.
Santos, who scored just two points on a 1-for-12 field shooting in a 90-92 loss in Game 3, notched 16 points this time, including nine in the second quarter which SMB took 59-48.
The 2013 MVP eventually had cause for a double celebration as his first of two blocks for the game moved him up to No. 7 in the PBA's all-time list past Manny Victorino's 817 total.
It was Romeo who was scintillating in the third, personally outscoring the entire Phoenix squad 17-5 in one four-minute stretch to boost the Beermen to an 89-62 spread.
The difference even got stretched to 112-82.
Those performances by the former Far Eastern U Tamaraws more than made up for June Mar Fajardo finishing with just nine points and six rebounds in just over 21 minutes and Marcio Lassiter, who sat out Game 3 due to back pains, going scoreless in 5:48 of playing time.
Alex Cabagnot was also a huge factor and not only because of his 18 points. His scuffle with RJ Jazul late in the second period, with SMB ahead 48-41 led to a near-all-out incident among the protagonists and caused the ejection of Phoenix guard Alex Mallari for two technical fouls.
Later on, Fuel Masters forward Jaypee Mendoza was also thrown out while Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Santos, Kelly Nabong and Jason Perkins were each also teed up.
The Cabagnot-Jazul incident was what shook his team up, maintained Alas.
"Medyo natalo kami sa mind game kanina," admitted Alas. "Sabi ko nga sa kanila sa post-game, parang naging secondary na lang sa amin 'yung basketball. Since we were trailing... ayun, natalo.
Phoenix has a 0-4 record in do-or-die playoff games since joining the league midway in 2016, but hope springs eternal for Alas. "May Game 5 pa naman," he said.
"We will see what will happen in Game 5. Definitely, me adjustments kami."
Austria said his side should be prepared. "Whatever they'll try our players are ready," he said.
"I have instructed the players, 'You have to fight back.' Not (exactly) to fight back, but to compete with them. So whatever they throw at us, physically, mentally, we are ready. They are self-motivated." (NC)