Magnolia turns to defense to shackle NLEX, move on verge of finals faceoff vs SMB
Paul Lee presided over Magnolia's offense in Game Five. Jerome Ascano

ANTIPOLO – Magnolia turned to what it does best in frustrating NLEX, 87-78, on Sunday night to move on the verge of a finals appearance in the PBA Philippine Cup.  

The defense-oriented Hotshots engaged the Road Warriors in a tight, grind-out battle then clamped down on defense to suddenly pull away in the payoff period and roll to the victory in Game Five at the Ynares Center.

Mark Barroca and Paul Lee led the guard-oriented attack while Aldrech Ramos provided a spark off the bench for the Hotshots, who are a win away from getting over the hump after falling short of the finals the last three conferences.

“We needed to go to our strength, which is our defense,” Hotshots coach Chito Victolero said. “Nanalo kami Game Three, but that wasn’t our game.”

“But wala kaming dapat i-celebrate ngayon eh; we need four wins to go to the finals,” he added. “May konting advantrage lang kami na nanalo kami ngayon, pero hindi pa tapos yung series.”

The Hotshots can finish off the Road Warriors in Game Six on Tuesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

Ahead by just one point heading into the fourth quarter, the Hotshots turned their defense up a notch, limiting the Road Warriors to one field goal in the first six minutes of the period and building their biggest lead at 84-66, following a Lee triple with a little over three minutes left.

The Road Warriors made just six of their 22 shots in the final frame, and 30 of their 80 shots overall for a poor 37.5 percent.

The Hotshots also shot below average at 39.7 percent, but they hit the shots that mattered as they converted after empty possessions by the Road Warriors.

Barroca showed the way with 18 points, seven boards, two assists, and two steals, against only one turnover in 31 minutes, while Lee finished with 15 markers, four assists, and three rebounds, without an error in almost 32 minutes.

Ramos added 15 points, missing a double-double by just one rebound, and one block in just 22 minutes off the bench, forming a hi-low combo with Ian Sangalang, who chipped in 12 points, 11 boards, six assists, and three blocks in 35 minutes.

Kiefer Ravena heated up after a slow start, firing a game-high 21 points, including 10 in the fourth, five assists, one board, and zero turnover in 31 minutes off the bench that went for naught for the Road Warriors, who missed Kevin Alas most of the game after going out with an early knee injury.

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The scores:

MAGNOLIA 87 — Barroca 18, Lee 15, Ramos 15, Sangalang 12, Simon 7, Dela Rosa 6, Pascual 4, Reavis 4, Brondial 2, Gamalinda 2, Jalalon 2, Herndon 0, Mendoza 0

NLEX 78 — Ravena 21, Mallari 13, Soyud 11, Fonacier 9, Miranda 8, Quiñahan 8, Rios 3, Taulava 2, Tiongson 2, Baguio 1, Alas 0

Quarterscores: 20-20, 37-36, 59-58, 87-78

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos