Hotshots devour Aces to claim No. 1 ranking and get easiest possible assignment in quarterfinals
Throwing the full weight of its powerhouse roster against an enemy trying to come up with the best going-away present possible, Magnolia on Sunday annihilated Alaska, 118-91, to sew up No. 1 ranking in the PBA Governors’ Cup playoffs for the lightest first round assignment possible.
In front of a modest 6,502 fans—the most in this time of the pandemic—at cavernous Smart Araneta Coliseum, the Hotshots put on a clinical display right from the first tip with former Alaska import Mike Harris leading the way with 38 points and 10 rebounds that had Magnolia rising to 9-1 overall and out of reach for top spot.
That means the Hotshots, who could have taken it easy having a good gap in the standings with No. 2 NLEX closing out with an 8-3 record, will draw the No. 8 team in the quarterfinals, needing to win just once to advance to the Final Four.
Barangay Ginebra carved out a 104-93 victory over Rain or Shine later in the night that had the defending champion Gin Kings practically advancing to the quarterfinals.
With a 6-5 record to close out eliminations, the Kings would now need to hope that they won’t figure out in ties and lose in the quotient system to make it to the next round without a hitch.
“During the pregame, I told the players that there’s no such thing as a no-bearing game,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said in the customary winning coach’s interview. “Actually our mindset has always been that the most important game is the one we’re about to play … So we just try to focus on the game at hand and try to bring that momentum into the playoffs.”
Garbage time players
Ian Sangalang, Jio Jalalon, and Jackson Corpuz added double-digit scores as Magnolia posted leads of as many as 31 points.
So sharp was Magnolia that Victolero was able to field his seldom-used players—a move he hopes would keep the Hotshots humming going into playoffs.
Alaska drew 14 points from RK Ilagan, 12 from both Maverick Ahanmisi and import Olu Ashaolu. Gilas draftee Allyn Bulanadi tossed in 11 in the loss that put the Aces in a perilous spot.
On pace for a top four finish, the farewelling Aces, now 6-5, risk sinking into the bottom half of the playoff draw depending on the results of the final playing dates.
Falling out of the upper half would mean needing to beat a higher-ranked team two straight times to advance.
But Alaska coach Jeff Cariaso is not pushing the panic button just yet.
“That’s how it is with this one elimination round,” he said on his way out of the team’s dugout. “You can be in the middle of the pack, and in two days you’re at the bottom.”
‘Didn’t do the job’
“I told the guys winning at the right time is the most important. We set ourselves up in a good position these last four games. But we didn’t do the job,” Cariaso went on.
Magnolia is still mulling on reactivating Calvin Abueva, who’s been at sickbay due to a calf injury. But Victolero said he is not rushing his do-it-all forward.
“We might reinjure him,” he said. “If he can’t make it back by Wednesday, he will likely be back by playoffs. We need him in the playoffs.”
Up next for the Hotshots is Blackwater, which is in danger of finishing the PBA’s 46th season without a single victory. INQ
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