Before the start of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, a vocal section of the league’s fan base was fiercely up in arms about the San Miguel Beermen once again stacking the deck to their favor with the controversial addition of young star CJ Perez.
The Beermen’s second game playing with a full roster never came until almost two and a half months later, when they swept the gutsy NorthPort Batang Pier in the quarterfinals off another close game, 100-95.
With the league-leading TNT Tropang Giga now waiting for them in the semifinals, San Miguel’s completion couldn’t have arrived at a better time, and head coach Leo Austria is watching his stars’ conditions intently as the days move along.
“[Romeo is] still struggling, but it’s a good relief for our point guards. Before they arrived, it’s hard for Chris Ross to play 38 minutes all the way. I’m happy he was able to play [in the quarterfinals] for him to be accustomed again to what kind of system we’re running,” he said.
“Same thing with Alex Cabagnot because we know we were lucky in our first game against NorthPort, as he was able to perform well. But he’s also still struggling.”
Along with Romeo and Cabagnot, six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo is likewise still working his way back to perfect condition, both physically and mentally, after the untimely death of his mother happened alongside his season-long leg injury rehab.
Austria fully understands his wards’ various needs, but at the same time, he knows that the pressure will only go up come tip-off time due to the sizable targets on their backs brought by yet another profitable off-season deal.
“Every conference, everybody is expecting us to do well. At least, [we should reach the] semifinals or finals. That’s the pressure we have to face, because that means there’s something with us,” he said.
“TNT really deserves to be No. 1. We did have an opportunity to beat them in the eliminations, and that gives us some confidence. But the semifinals, especially in a best-of-seven, is a different story.”
The semis series kicks off on Sunday, October 3, with San Miguel and TNT tangling at 4:35 pm, right after the 2 pm clash between Meralco and Magnolia.
After a 10-1 finish to the elimination round, with their only loss occurring against the Beermen, the Tropang Giga are likewise near full strength with Best Player of the Conference and top rookie candidate Mikey Williams leading the way.
“We know they are on a roll, they’re playing hard, and they’re playing beautiful basketball, very organized,” Austria continued.
“It’s tough to beat TNT because they are out there on a mission, we know that. But we will try to do our best, so we can at least contain them.” – Rappler.com