With 7:47 left in the fourth quarter, San Miguel Beermen held a 93-83 lead over the NLEX Road Warriors. Normally, this is a lead the Beermen can bring home given the dearth of talent in their lineup.

However, Kris Rosales and the Road Warriors had other plans.

Overtime proved to be a closer affair, one that NLEX seemed to handle well compared to SMB. Perhaps the Road Warriors had the advantage given they already had a game under their belt and the bitter taste of a loss, but San Miguel clearly has their work cut out for them moving forward. Adding insult to injury was how former import Thomas Robinson, who never suited up for the Beermen due to injury, lit them up for 42 points, 20 rebounds, and five assists.

It’s been a year since SMB won their last PBA championship, the 2022 Philippine Cup, but it has felt much longer than that thanks to the developments surrounding the PBA’s most successful franchise. June Mar Fajardo suffered a laryngeal fracture and an MCL injury in the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup and the 2023 EASL Champions Week, ailments that in part derailed San Miguel’s campaigns in those respective tournaments.

Along with that came the awkward situation with head coach Leo Austria, who was reportedly on a coaching sabbatical before being let back into the fold this season as an active consultant. Jorge Gallent has been leading the Beermen through it all and well, the results speak for themselves.

It may be too much to expect change overnight, but even expectations of incremental changes were not met. A number of SMB’s players were with Gilas Pilipinas for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the postponed 2022 Asian Games, or both competitions. It shouldn’t be an excuse, though, since the rest of the squad took part in the PBA On Tour and had time to work on their chemistry.

However, even after all that, things still feel… the same. San Miguel’s reliance on its stars has made it difficult for others to step up in crunch time. Moreover, the coaching staff must learn to adjust during crunch time, as everyone and their mother knows how the Beermen will operate.

Hopefully, the return of Austria will bring some sense of normalcy back to SMB. After all, things were going well during his tenure so why tinker with it? San Miguel’s roster is on the older side of the scale and managing that and preparing for the future should be a bigger priority for them. There’s a lot of basketball still to be played, but the time to get to work starts now.

The San Miguel Beermen had a stumbling start to PBA Season 48, a development that brought back the thought that things are still the same and not the good kind of same. Thankfully, familiar faces are back and healthy, so the opportunity for a better finish is there. If only they learn to maximize it.