Magnolia looks to bury Meralco in no man’s land; San Miguel Beer, TNT seek edge
Magnolia is looking to weld both its hands on the steering wheel when it plays Meralco in Game 3 of their Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup semifinals series at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga, on Friday.
But that match would not be the slightest easier, even with the Hotshots ahead, 2-0, in the race-to-four contest.
Just ask Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.
“We know that anyone within Meralco is capable of stepping up. We can’t afford to relax,” Victolero said after seizing a relatively comfortable cushion following a 92-78 Game 2 victory on Wednesday night.
“But as with every game, the goal is to get the W,” he added. “Whether it’s Game 1, Game 2 or Game 3, it’s just as important to us.”
A Magnolia victory would give it a 3-0 lead and in the history of professional basketball, only one team has ever come back from that hole to win a seven-game series—San Miguel Beer, versus Alaska in the 2015-16 Philippine Cup finals.
The Hotshots will treat their match against the Bolts with the same urgency the Bolts will bring into that showdown, and that San Miguel Beer and TNT will produce in their half of the semifinal bracket.
The Beermen and the Tropang Giga take the court right after the 3 p.m. match between Magnolia and Meralco, and for San Miguel coach Leo Austria, going ahead in the series means never having to play catch-up again the way his team did in the last two games.
“We were down 19 [late in the third period], so it was a bit of a miracle,” he said, after his wards’ high-wire 98-96 Game 2 escape capped by a Marcio Lassiter put-back.
“We have to control the tempo of the game since we’re facing a very talented team, a very energetic team,” Austria added.
The brains behind the All-Filipino club of the decade feels that things are only going to get tougher from here on out.
“The [Game 2] win gives us little confidence, because we know our opponent,” he said. “[TNT is] a very organized team. They will pore over, analyze everything that has happened.”
The Beermen might have a slight edge in talent, though, especially if guard Terrence Romeo continues his resurgence after coming back from a midconference injury.
“There had been been several injuries that has slowed me down,” said the spitfire guard, who top scored with 26 points and paved the way for Lassiter’s heroics.
“I’m just grateful to God that he has not forsaken me,” he added.
Magnolia, on the other hand, will have old reliables like Paul Lee taking charge. Lee had 28 points to lead the Hotshots in Game 2, but of particular interest will be the performances of front-liners Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva.
Sangalang finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2, while Abueva chipped in 11 and 11. The two will be under the spotlight with the injury of Meralco’s Raymond Almazan, who missed a bulk of Game 2 after rolling an ankle.
Almazan is doubtful for Game 3, and would be limited at best if he does suit up, giving Sangalang and Abueva a lot more room to operate down low.
“We all know what Calvin can bring to the Hotshots’ table. So we’re really grateful having ‘The Beast,’” Lee said of Abueva, one of the front-runners of this tournament’s top individual plum.
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