Dream duel sealed
Magnolia made minced meat of NLEX, 102-74, on Wednesday night to clamp down on the sixth seed and arrange a dream quarterfinal duel with equally popular sister team Barangay Ginebra in the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs.
With one scenario possibly sending them to a twice-to-win hole, the Hotshots didn’t leave anything to chance at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao and bombarded the Road Warriors from inside and out, finishing with a 6-5 record for the eliminations and drawing the crowd darlings in the first round of the playoffs in the process.
And coach Chito Victolero does not mind who will be on the opposite side of the floor come Saturday, for as long as he and his Hotshots got what they were shooting for.
“We achieved our goal and that is to get the sixth spot,” he told reporters in Filipino. “Now we can focus on the quarterfinals, the playoffs. I’m happy because we were able to secure an equal opportunity—[play in] a best-of-three [series].”
The Magnolia win also kept Alaska alive, with the Aces to play the Road Warriors in a KO match for the eighth and last berth after NorthPort claimed No. 7 later in the night with a 100-97 win over the Gin Kings.
Ginebra was assured of No. 3 no matter the result of its clash with NorthPort, which wound up with a 5-6 record.
The Road Warriors and the Aces finished with 4-7 slates and will dispute the last slot—and the right to play No. 1 Phoenix Pulse—on Friday at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
Phoenix and No. 2 Rain or Shine would need to win just once over their lower-ranked foes to advance to the Final Four.
Paul Lee scored 26 points in under 24 minutes and three more Hotshots tossed in twin digits as Magnolia won with plenty to spare.
“It’s going to be hard because we’ll play a top team in Ginebra. But again, it’s a best-of-three. Our foes won’t be enjoying an advantage,” he added.
Lee shot the lights out, drilling six triples, with Aldrech Ramos shooting 15 and Mark Barroca 14—all coming from the third period.
“Our defense proved to be a big factor. We limited NLEX under 90. Otherwise, they would’ve beaten us,” Victolero said.
Bong Galanza was the only player who finished in twin digits for the lethargic Road Warriors, shooting 10 points.
NLEX trailed by as many as 31 points.
The Magnolia mentor pointed to the All-Star break as among the other factors that helped them mount such a performance.
“Now, the players have gotten into a rhythm,” he said, adding that a handful of his wards were able to rest for three days, the ones who were “feeling something,” for four days.
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