FOR exerting more solid efforts on both ends of the court last Sunday, Magnolia is on the verge of returning to the PBA Philippine Cup finals.
Reprising such a sterling game would not be enough if the Hotshots expect to close out the deal against the desperate Meralco Bolts today in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals duel at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
“Kung ano ‘yung effort na ibinigay namin kailangan pa naming i-triple para makuha,” said Magnolia star guard Mark Barroca. “Kasi hindi ibibigay iyan. Kung kami nasa sitwasyon nila, back-to-the-wall, iyun talaga gagawin namin.”
Magnolia coach Chito Victolero couldn’t agree more. “Tama si Mark. It’s hard to close a series kasi nga the effort and aggressiveness nu’ng kabilang team medyo tataas talaga iyon,” he said.
Barroca and Victolero spoke after the Hotshots’ 81-69 Game 4 win that gave them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and three chances, starting today, of making it back to the finals where they have been to in 2018 and 2019.
In the other match, San Miguel Beer tries to follow up its own emphatic win against TNT and gain the advantage in their own race-to-four series.
The odds and history seem to favor Magnolia since, according to PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III, 52 out of the total 56 teams that have taken such a lead in a race-to-four went on to win the duel, including 27 of the last 28. What’s more, 27 of those winners clinched it in Game 5.
Barroca knows what he and his team must do to be readily included in that elite circle.
“Kami, lampasan talaga namin ‘yung effort nila, kung anuman iyon,” said the six-time champion cager.
“Kasi nga, Meralco is more on effort sila. So tatapatan namin, hindi lang tatapatan i-triple pa kasi mahirap talagang mag-close ng series.”
Meralco has already shown its resilience by jacking up its own energy and intensity to notch a 91-86 in Game 3, avoid falling into a very deep 0-3 hole, and make a series of it.
That loss served as a lesson for Magnolia, according to Victolero. “We’ve learned from that and I think we’ll just try to stay focused, recharge, refresh,” he said.
“We have to expect more effort from Meralco. We need to do multiple effort again. Stay aggressive,” added Victolero. “We have to stay focused.”
The Beermen scored a wire-to-wire 116-90 win in Game 4 to knot the duel at two games apiece and coach Leo Austria and Mo Tautuaa know exactly what their team must do to break the trend of the Tropang Giga winning each odd-numbered game.
“Next game is really important, pivotal, so our opponent is expected to step up big-time,” Austria said.
“It’s up to us how to counter. But the good thing for us we have two days to prepare before our next game and I hope the way we played today ma-maintain namin, ma-sustain namin,” added Austria.
“What is important for us is to keep everybody healthy and refreshed so that offensively and defensively executed lahat ang ginagawa namin.”
“(If) we continue to play and listen to coach and trust our system, we’ll be all right,” said Tautuaa, who keyed that Game 4 win with 25 points and nine rebounds.
“All the other stuff, it’s kind of out the window,” added the American-born Fil-Tongan. “We gotta make sure our camp is good, we’re taking care of ourselves, stay healthy and just come out strong and play as a team.”
One adjustment TNT may have to make is playing without center Poy Erram, who suffered a suspected fractured cheekbone early in Game 4, leaving coach Chot Reyes without a true big man to challenge not only Tautuaa but also June Mar Fajardo, who wound up with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Kelly Williams, sidelined since the series started after having to go through the league’s health and safety protocols, could finally see action and Roger Pogoy is sure to bounce back strong from a two-point production in Game 4, 21 below his series average.
“It’s a matter of how we adjust. But knowing our opponent, there’s a lot of things that could happen,” cautioned Austria.
Meralco is also expected to make its own moves to stay alive and ease some of its manpower problems. Foremost is suiting up slotman Raymond Almazan, who missed the last two games due to a sprained ankle he suffered in Game 2.
What is not yet known as of press time is whether Trevis Jackson and Jammer Jamito would also be cleared to play for the Bolts after both also went through the league’s health and safety protocols.