Magnolia takes first of 3 shots at finals berth; SMB eyes crucial edge
After flaunting command last week using an unrelenting defense that didn’t give the enemy an inch, Magnolia will try to put Meralco away on Wednesday at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor town, Pampanga, and enter the PBA Philippine Cup Finals for the third time in four years.
The Hotshots will have a lot of things going their way—from momentum to edge in available manpower—when they tangle with the banged up Bolts at 3 p.m., but coach Chito Victolero knows that Meralco isn’t one to go down without a fight.
“We learned from Game 3,” he said, referring to the only outing which the Hotshots lost in four games of this series. “So, we’ll have the same mindset as we did and try to remind the players to be consistent with it.”
Mark Barroca, the Hotshot’s trusty floor general who was the Game 4 hero, knows all too well that it’s this kind of game that’s hardest to win—though the Hotshots actually have three chances to do it.
“Based on my experience [in this league], closing out a series is the hardest,” he said. “We have to triple the kind of effort we brought in the last game, because there’s no way that [Meralco’s] going to hand the victory to us.”
Magnolia’s cautious approach, if anything, is justified. Undermanned and all, Meralco proved in a 91-86 stunner in Game 3 that it’s still a capable bunch even without Raymond Almazan and Cliff Hodge.
Wednesday’s do-or-die could pan out differently with the 6-foot-7 Almazan being a game-time decision.
“It’s only until we get win No. 4 that we end the series … we have to stay focused, and continue to remind each one that the most important game is the one we’re about to play,” Victolero said.
Meanwhile, San Miguel looks to repeat against TNT in the 6 p.m. nightcap, looking to break a 2-2 tie and grab the lead in this side of the Final Four for the first time.
“The next game is really important. It’s pivotal,” said Leo Austria, who drew commendable performances from all of his eight stars in a 116-90 blowout of the top-seeded Tropang Giga last Sunday.
“I hope we’re able to maintain, sustain the way we played [Game 4],” he went on.
“Though the players have to stay grounded and not celebrate [the one-sided Game 4 win]. Instead, they should think of something that could help us again in our next game.”
San Miguel has always played catch-up with TNT in the series until Game 4, where the Beermen led by as large as 37 points and made it look like the Tropang Giga didn’t belong on the same floor with them.
The pressure is now on TNT to foil San Miguel from manufacturing momentum in what has become a virtual best-of-three race. And that task has become even more challenging with Poy Erram also getting ruled as a game-time decision.
Kelly Williams, meanwhile, is also hoping to clear the league’s health protocols.