CHICAGO - Watching Magnolia play is like watching a swarm of bees at work.
Rich and overflowing with two-way players, they suffocate opponents with their defense while puncturing them on offense with a balanced attack.
If you don't believe me, just gaze at wilting Meralco, or whatever static is left on those broken, 0-2-down Bolts.
After pocketing two relatively easy semis wins, the Hotshots stand two games away from tasting the sweet nectar of another PBA finals appearance, their third since 2018.
But Magnolia has no intention of smelling the roses just yet or glaring down at a wounded foe.
"Game 3 is a 'trap.' We have to prepare even harder. They are down 0-2 and we expect them to be at their best," Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero told me during a telephone interview earlier tonight.
I think coach Chito is merely being modest.
Meralco is overmatched, in over their heads deep against a team that is dotted with pesky guards (Paul Lee and Jio Jalalon and Mark Barroca), soaring wings (Calvin Abueva and Rome Dela Rosa) and versatile bigs (Rafi Reavis and Ian Sangalang).
And with Raymond Almazan ruled out with a sprained ankle, the Bolts, already beaten by a combined 23 points in Games One and Two, have little electricity left.
THE LIST OF FACTORS THAT MAKE MAGNOLIA TICK IS AS LONG AS THE PBA'S LIST OF PROBLEMS.
Ironically, it begins with Calvin Abueva, The Beast that Kume Marcial nearly put to pasture for good with a lengthy and preposterously unreasonable suspension which began in June 2019 before being justifiably lifted last October 2020.
"Calvin is our energy guy, a power forward who can rebound and defend. He is giving us what Marc Pingris used to provide before he retired. "Victolero explained.
Abueva, who was traded from Phoenix to Magnolia this past February, has been a thorn in the side of Meralco, stunning the Bolts with a combined 24 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists in two games.
Besides Abueva, Lee, Sangalang and Barroca have proven to be blunt instruments that are hastening the demise of Meralco in these playoffs.
The dangerous trio accounted for 94 points in Game 1 and 2.
The other key to Magnolia's success is the team's primary focus on what's in front of the jersey, not the names on the back of it.
"Walang ego dito," says coach Chito, "As what Jio (Jalalon) said, everyone has a role to play here."
And these Hotshots are thriving on that mantra. Blossoming more after every extra pass, after each unselfish play.
Unlike super teams where superstars whine about touches and minutes, Magnolia is drama-free in an environment nourished by communal play and strengthened by the intense camaraderie of a players rotation that run 11-deep.
Although the Bolts are already dead in this series, for all intents and purposes, coach Chito doesn't want to look ahead and answer the question on whether he'd rather play San Miguel or TNT in the championship round.
I hung up the phone realizing that I became a fan of coach Chito Victolero,. He is a breath of fresh air in a league teeming with entitled, recycled coaches.
Victolero was genuinely nice, well-spoken, and had no air whatsoever about him. And by the way, he is a brilliant coach whose mind sprouts with new ideas.
It's no wonder Magnolia is where it is right now, on the cusp of another championship under Chito's watch.
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