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San Miguel Beer keeps winning tradition

Jakarta's heavy afternoon traffic could not stop San Miguel Beer from keeping its date with destiny on Wednesday, June 12, when it won its first Asean Basketball League (ABL) basketball crown.

The 30-minute drive from their hotel to Mahaka Square stretched to almost two hours. Arriving at the venue with just an hour before gametime, the Beermen quickly laced up, did a shootaround, listened to coach Leo Austria's short and snappy pre-game instructions, and took care of business.

"Whatever it took, we wanted to finish the series tonight (Wednesday) on Independence Day (June 12). There won't be a Game Four," San Miguel Beer center and league Most Valuable Player (MVP) Asi Taulava said after SMB's 70-55 victory over the Indonesia Warriors, which followed their 75-70 and 66-65 victories in Games One and Two of the best-of-five series.

"We had some anxious moments with the Jakarta traffic. But earlier in the season, we arrived late at the gym in Thailand, also because of the terrible traffic. But we made it with a few minutes to spare. I think everything that happened to us during the season prepared us for this," he added.

"We wanted to make the bosses happy -- especially Boss Danding Cojuangco, who celebrated his birthday last June 10 -- Boss Ramon Ang, and Boss Bobby Huang with this victory. We thank them for their support since Day One," said coach Austria, who was earlier named Coach of the Year.

San Miguel Beer, a heavyweight in local basketball as a multi-titled grand slam team in the Philippine Basketball Association, finally planted its flag on the Asean basketball map as a club team for the first time in grand fashion. The Beermen practically swept through the opposition with a 16-game winning streak that catapulted it to No. 1 in the playoffs.

"We have San Miguel Beer's winning reputation to uphold and we were very focused on that during the season. But as opposed to last year when we lost to Indonesia, we wanted to anchor our game on defense," Austria said as the team kept the Warriors contained in the final game and went on a 10-3 tear for a 49-38 that set the tone for the victory.

After utilizing Gabe Freeman and Matt Rogers, the Beermen found the right import to put the D on its team defense. Former Sacramento King Justin Williams, who was cut by his PBA team in the Commissioner's Cup, was the perfect fit.

"He (Justin) doesn't score much but he was perfect for us. He makes the opponent think twice before driving inside with his shot-blocking prowess," said Austria. With Williams around, San Miguel's simple formula to win each game was to limit the opponent to 60 points or lower. "We are a talented team down to our last man, but we know defense wins championships," he said.

There's no denying that the team is heavily loaded. There's Taulava, Brian Williams, Justin Williams, Eric Menk and Hans Thiele at the frontcourt and finals MVP Chris Banchero, Val Acuna, Leo Avenido, JR Cawaling, Chris Luanzon Paolo Hubalde, Jeric Fortuna at the wings and the backcourt.

"San Miguel's deep bench clearly stood out. We gave it all we've got but we know we lost to a better team," said Indonesia coach Todd Purves.

"This team is a gift. This championship is San Miguel's gift to the Filipinos," Austria said.