Undermanned SMB rolls dice with John Holland in QF series vs. Ginebra

PBA quarterfinals preview, Part 1 (4:58)

Ryan Gregorio breaks down Meralco going up against a streaking Alaska, and SMB's quest for a grand slam despite its disadvantages against Barangay Ginebra. (4:58)

It might appear that both San Miguel and Barangay Ginebra aren't keen on meeting each other this early in the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals.

Gin Kings coach Tim Cone admitted just as much after learning that he'd have to craft a plan to deal with a loaded Beermen side with a twice-to-beat bonus.

"We certainly would have chosen a different opponent for the [quarterfinals] if it was within our power, but SMB it is," he said in a text message.

Meanwhile for coach Leo Austria, who has already been on the wrong end of two playoff matchups against Ginebra in the last three years -- including a first-round letdown in the same conference two years ago that cost the Beermen a Grand Slam -- he thinks this matchup represents another obstacle the team needs to hurdle for a chance at sweeping for a season trifecta.

"It will be a tough matchup for us because Ginebra. I still remember when we were aiming for the Grand Slam, they're also the team that beat us and stopped our goal. But the chance is still there," he said last Wednesday after SMB's loss to the TNT KaTropa in the final day of the elimination round.

Both teams will have to play the cards they're dealt with, though, and while Cone and the Gin Kings have always set lofty standards for their franchise, SMB arguably stands to lose more in an early playoff exit.

"It's a harder road now, but we still have enough talent to do it so I'm still confident in us. I still think that no matter team we play, we have a good chance. Now it's just a little harder, we just need to win two games. It's alright," Beermen import John Holland said.

Holland will be tasked with stabilizing an SMB side that has dealt with its fair share of turmoil in the last week. With a Dez Wells return hinging on what Austria says is "a management decision" and the absence of key pieces Arwind Santos, Kelly Nabong and Ronald Tubid hampering depth, the Beermen can do nothing else but pin a lot of their hopes on the former NBA player -- which doesn't appear to be a bad gamble in itself based on his last outing.

After a dismal debut last November 9 that saw him put up only 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting, 10 rebounds and 6 assists across his name, a more aggressive Holland came out against the KaTropa last Wednesday, where he tallied 25 points on 26 shots, 11 rebounds, 6 steals, 3 assists and a block in 48 full minutes. That still ended in a loss for the Beermen as a game-tying triple by the import was blocked by counterpart KJ McDaniels in the final 10 seconds, but that inspired more hope that Holland can approach Wells' (37.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists in eight games) level of play.

"I'm just trying to adjust as quick as possible. It's better than the first game, coming off the plane and stuff. Second game is better, but I still think there's still a lot to be improved. We don't have time to do it. So like it's a tough situation but it is what it is, it's the playoffs. We have to just deal with all that adversity and just keep pushing and push through it. And I think we have enough talent on the team to do it so I think it's just about getting it done now," said Holland.

Barring a Wells return or an arrival of a "super import" if San Miguel is able to push past Ginebra in the first round, Austria said the team will be sticking with Holland in these playoffs.

"It's hard to tell because if we're going to get LeBron (James) or Kobe (Bryant), why not? But it's hard to get somebody who is a super import because it takes a lot of time for a player to become efficient to the team. If he doesn't know how his teammates and how his opponents play, it's hard. It's like war. You can't win a war, a battle if you don't know the terrain," said the coach.

"But maybe if there's another super import, why not? Maybe after these quarterfinals, if we will make it to the semifinals, still a lot of time," he added.

Despite the tougher odds, Holland thinks San Miguel has enough weapons and experience to deal with the Gin Kings.

"It's always been a lot of pressure to play but like I said, it's a tougher road now but we still have enough to do it," he said. "I like us against anybody, you know what I'm sayin'? I think we have the Filipino champions and [they won] last conference so I think it's clear that we have enough to get it done so we just have to do it. We have to put it together for one game, two games, one game at a time and get it done."

Their foes are aware of it, too, which is why Cone kept things simple when prodded about his plans against this Beermen team.

"Control what you can control, and that is preparing ourselves the best we can. It's always such a great challenge going against them. Both teams are extremely motivated. It should be a great fight," he said.

San Miguel and Barangay Ginebra will face each other in the second game of a double-header Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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