THE morning after, PBA fans are still seething over the horror call that marred Game Three of the Magnolia-TnT playoff for the 2021 Philippine Cup championship.
That whistle was heard with a little over three minutes left in the second quarter and Magnolia leading 43-39, as Hotshots star Paul Lee pulled up for a three-point attempt from near the top of the free-throw circle on Sunday night.
TnT guard Brian Heruela tried to close out, but he came nowhere close to Lee's shooting hand or his landing spot. The ensuing foul predictably drew howls of protest from the TnT camp and left Heruela in utter disbelief.
That single call didn't decide the outcome, but it became a sticking point in a highly physical game that Magnolia won, 106-98, especially after TnT team owner Manny V. Pangilinan hit out at the officiating in a tweet.
The Magnolia win prevented the Tropang Giga from opening a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven finals, and left a lot to play for heading to Game Four on Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
'Di na pinapito'
The series outcome may still be up in the air, but one thing sure the referee who called the non-foul on Heruela will never blow a whistle again. Not in this title series at least.
League sources bared officials were so incensed after watching the replay of the controversial play that they immediately instructed the technical staff on the ground to remove the referee from the four-man rotation that very moment.
The four officials who worked the game were Peter Balao, Sherwin Pineda, Janine Nicandro, and Kenny Hallig.
"Hindi na s'ya pinapito," said a league insider.
Insiders said the referee was also taken off the roster of officials for the rest of the best-of-seven finals even before a review of Game Three is completed by the league's technical officials led by deputy commissioner Eric Castro.
Penalties or suspensions? That will be decided upon the completion of the review.
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