Christian Standhardinger was the first to cut the net at Smart-Araneta Coliseum following San Miguel's series-clinching victory Wednesday. As Standhardinger ascended the ladder, the Magnolia Hotshots gathered beside him, ready to accept their runner-up trophy.
The Hotshots at that moment likely wished they where anywhere but on the court.
Magnolia will have to wait another year to challenge the Beermen. But even though the results were the same, the journey was anything but. A year ago, San Miguel cruised to their fourth straight championship, winning it in five games. San Miguel barely escaped this year. The Hotshots feel they're inching closer and closer.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of," Hotshots guard Mark Barroca said. "We gave our best, and we're still happy."
What stings most for Magnolia is the 17-point lead it blew in the second half. Magnolia again bottled June Mar Fajardo up and forced San Miguel's perimeter shooting into tough looks.
But as they've done for the past five years, San Miguel found a way. As they adjusted and found their groove, Magnolia wasn't able to keep up. And down the stretch, when the lead swung back and forth, San Miguel did just enough to hold on.
"That's what hurts -- we were up big and we lost," Barroca said. "We need to learn from this. But we're still happy with the result, because we didn't allow ourselves to lose big. This Game 7 is one that will go down in history."
The Hotshots pushed the Beermen throughout the series.
"They're scrappy man," San Miguel guard Chris Ross said. "I kept telling my team that all five guys on the court have to play hard. You can't take any plays off against the team. All five guys they put on the court, they're gonna all out every possession."
"I'm proud of my guys," Hotshots center Rafi Reavis said. "It shows the character of these guys - the will to not quit and not to give up. And that's what we talked about - battle down to the last minute. We talked about giving ourselves a chance, and that's what we did."
San Miguel's players, while triumphant, looked banged up as they departed the arena. It's a familiar sight for any team that plays Magnolia, especially in a seven-game series.
"It was one of the toughest," Ross said of the championships won during this dynasty. "This was the first time I actually cried after winning the game. I hugged coach Leo [Austria], and tears fell from my eyes."
The Hotshots will be determined to get another crack at the defending champions.