The San Miguel Beermen kept their title defense and Grand Slam bid alive as they barged into the 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup finals.
The Beermen ousted Alaska with a 104-99 victory in Game 4 of their best-of-five semifinal series to clinch their seventh finals appearance since Leo Austria took over as head coach.
From being down 0-3 at the start of the conference, the defending champions did enough to end the eliminations in sixth place before dominating the playoffs on their way to the championship stage.
"We're very thankful that we're able to catch up at the right time. At 0-3 everybody was so scared and worried about our situation," recalled Austria.
Determined to arrest its early skid, San Miguel decided to tap the services of former import Renaldo Balkman in place of Troy Gillenwater, who proved to be ineffective in his first couple of games.
Balkman had been prohibited to play in the PBA following an incident in 2013 where he choked his teammate Arwind Santos, but he got his second chance when the league lifted his lifetime ban early this year.
The Beermen thought the Puerto Rican reinforcement could be the missing ingredient in their campaign for another trophy. And true enough, he immediately made an impact when he first came in.
"The players started to become inspired because of what he showed in the first game against Alaska. Even if we lost, the players, the locals, they saw that there's somebody who could help the team," Austria shared.
Balkman averaged 29.4 points, 13.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals, and 2.9 blocks in the elimination round to help SMB win six of their last eight games and end with a 6-5 record. He also delivered huge performances in the playoffs.
"Man, like what I told you when I first started, one game at a time, and now we here. We [are] in the Finals, man," said Balkman after dropping 23 markers and 16 boards in their Game 4 win.
"We played great tonight. This is what basketball is made of. I came out here with one goal, and it's to make it. We made it to the Finals and now we gotta win it," he added.
After battling injuries that forced him to sit out for a year, Balkman is just happy to inch closer to another crown, a few months after winning one with San Miguel-Alab Pilipinas in the Asean Basketball League.
"I got a lot left in my tank. As y'all can see out there on the court, I will give my all everytime. We came out there tonight and we came out with the win," Balkman said. "We just gotta go out there and play hard. It's a blessing for me. I just won one, and [I'm trying] to come back and win another one right now. I'm glad to be back in the finals."