CHICAGO - Up two points with the game clock winding down. Do you foul and put pressure on the other team to make free throws or do you trust your defense to make a stop and preserve the victory?
It's that fork in the road Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero found himself in in Game 3 of Sunday night's Philippine Cup semifinals where his team was battling defending champs Talk N' Text.
With just 9.8 seconds left to play and the Hotshots leading, 92-90, Victolero chose to trust his defense, which happens to be No. 1 in the league in points allowed (80.8) and No. 1 in field goal percentage allowed at 37.7 percent.
Magnolia also ranks No.3 in 3-point field goal percentage allowed at a stingy 27.4 percent.
Numbers-wise, coach Chito made the good call. Unfortunately, Magnolia caught a bad break when veteran Jayson Castro, who is only 34 percent accurate behind the arc this conference, nailed a big 3 for the win.
Had Magnolia elected to foul, especially with both teams having no more timeouts left, the worst case scenario for them would have been to play an extra five minutes of overtime.
But that idea never crossed Victolero's mind.
"No," he told me after the heart-breaking defeat that sent his team reeling to a 1-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
LIKE PAT RILEY and Gregg Popovich of the NBA, Chito is old-school and frowns on the idea of intentionally offering free points to the other side.
If the lead was 3, it's not a crazy idea to foul because even if the opposing team makes both free throws, you'd still be up 1 and will retain ball possession.
But when the lead is a slim 2, it's best to roll the dice because even if a 3 can beat you, it's a shot hurled at least 22 feet away from the rim, giving you a high odds of seeing a miss.
So even though Castro cashed in on a pressure-packed, long-distance heave, the Hotshots will sleep good tonight.
"Tough loss. But move forward na kami and prepare hard for Game 4," coach Chito said.
Still, this was a wasted opportunity for the Hotshots.
They held TNT's 1-2 punch of Mikey Williams and Roger Pogoy to a mere 22 points combined on just 6-of-23 shooting overall, including a 4-of-12 clip from 3.
And even though Castro and Poy Erram stepped up with a combined 38 points, this should have been a wrap for Magnolia, which did a terrific job in neutralizing their opponent's most lethal weapons.
FASTBREAK. Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva both fouled out late in Game Three, taking a lot of bite out of Magnolia's tenacious defense.
But that wasn't a surprise as Magnolia led the PBA in fouls during the elimination round with 24.2 per.
So, the challenge here for the Hotshots is to minimize getting whistled for fouls while somehow staying aggressive.
Let's see if they figure that out in Wednesday's Game Four.
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