‘Miracle Man’ makes ’em believe
Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – First he has to believe. Having seen it manifest itself in various forms he has to believe. Then he implored his men to believe, that nothing is impossible if they believe.

Amid the din and roar from over 23,000 fans at the MOA Arena Wednesday night, as the red and blue balloons cut loose earlier littered the glistening hard court, the San Miguel Beermen found themselves a happy cluster of firm believers of the Miracle of the Sweep.

“I kept telling them to believe in miracles, that they’re just around the corner,” said SMB coach Leo Austria moments after the Beermen made a tremendous turnaround from 0-3 down in a best-of-seven series and booked a place in the league history that could be hard to match.

He said he was no stranger to such phenom of a finish.

“I was there (as a player for Shell) when our team, leading 1-3, fell in a stunning loss on a great comeback by Ginebra (in 1991). Then I coached a team in the PBL that survived a 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five title series. That’s why I believe things like these can happen,” Austria also said.

A storied fightback from the depth of impending defeat to a soaring charge homeward marked the Beermen’s stunning win over the Alaska Aces to retain the prestigious Smart Bro PBA Philippine Cup crown.

It was one miracle built around the pain and despair of a shattering three straight losses and fanned by a great escape in Game Four that sparked San Miguel Beer’s amazing journey to a previously unchartered course in PBA’s 41-year history.

The Beermen pulled off a 110-104 win in overtime in Game Four before a capacity crowd at the Philsports Arena in Pasig on Jan. 24, a decisive victory that extended the series to another game while opening the door for the return of main man June Mar Fajardo from a knee injury.

Game Four proved to be the one big break San Miguel had been waiting for – the game-changer, the turning point in the epic series that saw the Beermen in a wild victory celebration at the final buzzer in Game Seven Wednesday at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.

History was made with the Beermen winning back-to-back PBA Philippine Cup crowns for the first time on their record comeback .

The gritty bunch of Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Alex Cabagnot, Ronald Tubid and Gabby Espinas all stepped up to anchor their incredible rise against the Aces.

Again, it all started on their Game Four victory and the return of Fajardo, the Best Player of the Conference, in Game Five.

“No doubt, June Mar is a huge factor,” said Austria.

“We fought them in a close fight in each of the first three games. All those games could’ve gone either way. So we probably can say that we can beat them even without June Mar. But we could’ve not salvaged the series without him,” Austria also said.

Lassiter top scored with 26 points, Espinas came through with a double-double game with 21 markers and 14 rebounds, Santos also had 11 points and 12 rebounds while Ross and Cabagnot struck in the clutch as the Beermen foiled the Aces’ sweep bid in Game Four.

Fajardo then made his much-awaited comeback in Game Five, with the crowd roaring in excitement just as the 6-foot-10 behemoth headed to the officials’ table towards the end of the first quarter.

The reigning back-to-back MVP played a solid 16:29 minutes and his teammates took the cue as San Miguel survived another overtime grind, 86-73.

And the complexion of the series had changed by the next game with the momentum shifting to the other side.

Lassiter led all scorers with 26 points, including 17 in the last quarter, while Fajardo piled up 16 markers, seven rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist as the Beermen repulsed the Aces, 100-89, to force the winner-take-all match.

With a four-day breather, Fajardo was already almost in his usual dominant form in Game Seven, collecting 21 points, 15 rebounds and one assist to lead the Beermen to the history-setting 96-89 triumph.

“You have to give it to June Mar. He’s still injured but he begged to be allowed to play, and he didn’t disappoint,” said Austria.


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