San Miguel Beer is back in a familiar position — but with a new lineup.
After surviving a hard-fought 100-89 Game 7 victory over Meralco in their Philippine Basketball Association best-of-seven semifinal series, Beermen coach Leo Austria knows that there’s another daunting task ahead of them.
Austria said this finals appearance will be a test of character for their new players when they open their finals series against TNT Tropang Giga on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen will make their first finals appearance since the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup, where they also faced the Tropang Giga in the championship round.
For Austria, this new and rejuvenated lineup should create a new legacy by winning a championship.
“This series will test our character. We all know that only a few players were retained in our roster,” Austria said.
“In the tournament, the second placers are not known so they need to win a championship for them to have a legacy.”
True enough, San Miguel retooled its lineup in the past conferences.
A couple of failed playoff campaigns forced the Beermen to undergo an overhaul, even breaking up the “Death Five” core of June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross.
Fajardo, Lassiter and Ross are the only remaining Beermen left from that victorious squad while the team picked up Vic Manuel and CJ Perez last year.
The Beermen also made a key move in acquiring journeyman guard Simon Enciso, as well as free agents Rodney Brondial and Jericho Cruz early this year.
Perez immediately found his offensive niche, scoring 18 points and nine rebounds behind Fajardo’s 29-point explosion in Game 7.
Cruz, Manuel and Enciso also developed into solid bench contributors, while Brondial has been a reliable back-up center for Fajardo.
Now, they are up for their biggest test against the rock-solid lineup of TNT veteran Jayson Castro, Roger Pogoy, Troy Rosario and spitfire Mikey Williams.