The Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots are back in the PBA Finals.
It was not an easy path though and they had to bank on a collective effort to finally wrap up their best-of-seven semifinal series versus the Meralco Bolts in six games with a hard-fought 93-85 win.
Magnolia’s star guard and leading scorer Paul Lee, who was relegated to a bench role for this match following a disappointing Game 5 performance, had a rare second consecutive poor showing. Lee missed all nine of his field goal attempts in their decisive Game 6 victory, but salvaged his line by making all four of his free throws.
His teammates were there to take up the scoring cudgels in his stead and five of them finished with at least 11 points.
Ian Sangalang was a steadying force for the Pambansang Manok Hotshots and led the way with 19 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and three blocks in 41 minutes.
Mark Barroca chipped in with 16 points and two assists following his big Game 5 performance while Rome dela Rosa also scored 16 in what was his best offensive outing of the series.
Meralco actually led for most of the first half and by as much as 11 points in the open period. However, Magnolia stormed back in the second quarter and took the lead for good following back-to-back three-pointers from dela Rosa.
The Pambansang Manok Hotshots then kept the Bolts at bay throughout the second half where they built a double digit advantage on multiple occasions.
Once again, it was the interior play of Magnolia that gave them an edge and it was the difference-maker in what was otherwise a statistically even match-up. Sangalang led the way as they outrebounded the Bolts, 57-44, and had almost triple the amount of second chance points, 23-8.
Meralco’s starting big men Raymond Almazan (16 points and 12 rebounds) and Cliff Hodge (nine points, nine rebounds, and six assists) put up a gallant fight, albeit it was not enough to overcome the imposing frontline of the Pambansang Manok Hotshots.
With their season on the line, Chris Newsome played 44 minutes for the Bolts, but he was shackled by the Magnolia defense. Newsome was limited to 14 points on an inefficient three-of-10 shooting from the field and he was pressured into committing four turnovers.
The Bolts have now been eliminated from the PBA Philippine Cup in the semifinals for the second consecutive year and despite the heartbreak of this loss, it is a step in the right direction for this young team in their hunt for their franchise’s first ever title. Their core has made significant strides both individually and as a team, showing the potential to remain a formidable contender for next year and beyond.
With Meralco out of the way, the Pambansang Manok Hotshots will now await the winner of Game 7 between the San Miguel Beermen and the TNT Tropang Giga.
The Beermen forced Game 7 with a comfortable 103-90 win that saw them lead by as much as 26 points late in the third quarter. It was the fourth consecutive blowout win in this peculiar back-and-forth series that has yet to see either team win back-to-back games.
San Miguel’s back-up center Mo Tautuaa continued his strong postseason with his best game of the series. He led all scorers with 24 points in 28 minutes while he also grabbed five rebounds.
Tautuaa’s fellow reserve Terrence Romeo added 16 points and six assists which helped them overcome a rare off-night from the third member of their second unit “Big 3” CJ Perez. Perez needed 11 shots to score his 8 points though he still managed to contribute with 12 rebounds.
Marcio Lassiter led the Beermen’s starters with 19 points, five threes, five rebounds, three assists, and four steals. Meanwhile, the veteran interior duo of June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos both had relatively quiet double-doubles as they continue to be a stabilizing source of consistency for this star-studded team.
The Tropang Giga came out of the gates flat and once they fell behind by 10 points in the second quarter, they would not come any closer for the rest of Game 6. Among their starting five, only Troy Rosario made at least one-third of his shot attempts and he was the only one to score in double figures.
With their starters struggling, TNT turned to their star backcourt from a decade ago, Jayson Castro and Ryan Reyes, who turned back the clock and tallied 16 points apiece off the bench. Their fellow reserves Poy Erram and Brian Heruela joined in and combined for 20 points, but it was not enough to turn the tide.
Come Game 7, The Tropang Giga will try to keep the streak of neither side winning two consecutive games alive while the Beermen will be raring to break the pattern and barge into the finals.
With a ticket to the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup Finals on the line, these two teams are expected to come out with their A-game which will hopefully guarantee the end of at least one streak–the unpleasant run of four consecutive games decided by at least 13 points.
The winner of this seventh game will move on to the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup Finals where Magnolia awaits and another clash of titans will begin. The Pambansang Manok Hotshots have done their part and now San Miguel and TNT have one last shot at joining them in this year’s last dance.