MAGNOLIA finally got over the hump after last season’s heartbreaks, eliminating NLEX, 96-89, on Tuesday night to advance to the finals of the PBA Philippine Cup.
After falling short of the finals the last three conferences, the Hotshots found the killer’s instinct this time, finishing off the Road Warriors in six games in their best-of-seven series.
Ian Sangalang and Mark Barroca hit the biggest shots down the stretch as the Hotshots pounced on a shorthanded Road Warriors side that lost JR Quinahan due to an early ejection apart from injured Kevin Alas.
"Credit to my players, to the whole coaching staff, talagang mahirap pumasok sa finals,” a relieved Hotshots coach Chito Victolero said in the post-game interview. “Credit also to coach Yeng and to his team, hindi sila nag-give up.”
“Kahit undermanned sila, it’s very hard for us na kunin ‘tong Game Six,” he added after his team made the finals for the first time since the 2014 Governors' Cup which they ruled to cap off their Grand Slam conquest.
The Hotshots earned the right to face mighty San Miguel Beer in the title series that begins on Friday.
After taking Game Five to regain control of the series, the Hotshots gained an early break on Tuesday, seeing the NLEX veteran Quinahan leave for a flagrant foul 2 for a hit to the head of Jio Jalalon early in the second quarter.
But the Road Warriors, already missing Alas due to a knee injury he suffered in the previous game, refused to budge, staying within striking distance the rest of the way, pulling to within two points, 91-89, after Alex Mallari charities with a little over two minutes left.
But the Hotshots finally nipped it in the bud as Barroca anticipated a Kiefer Ravena pass to steal the leather, passed it to Jalalon, then got the ball back for the finish and the layup plus the foul and the bonus free throw to give them enough cushion to hold on.
The Hotshots’ pesky defense was most evident on Kiefer Ravena, who was held to just nine points on a paltry 3-of-17 shooting, although the rookie guard had five boards, five assists, and three steals in 37 minutes.
Sangalang finished with 15 points, 11 boards, and one assist in 25 minutes, while Barroca also registered a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, along with five assists, and one steal in almost 36 minutes.
Jalalon had the last laugh against Quinahan as he also had a double-double with 11 points and 13 assists, that went with five rebounds, and two steals in 29 minutes off the bench.
The result spoiled the solid showing of Michael Miranda, who churned out 20 points, including two triples, eight boards, two steals, and one assist, without committing a single turnover in 30 minutes as a starter.
MAGNOLIA 96 — Sangalang 15, Barroca 14, Jalalon 11, Pascual 10, Ramos 10, Dela Rosa 9, Lee 9, Reavis 6, Simon 6, Herndon 4, Brondial 2
NLEX 89 — Miranda 20, Fonacier 17, Baguio 10, Ravena 9, Mallari 8, Taulava 7, Soyud 6, Tiongson 5, Quiñahan 4, Ighalo 3
Quarterscores: 20-29, 49-46, 71-68, 96-89