MAGNOLIA is on a mission and won’t be denied.
Once again the Hotshots displayed their steely resolve by beating leader TNT 102-93 last night to close in on their target in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Sports Arena in Angeles City.
Paul Lee scored 27 points to lead Magnolia’s charge that faltered at times but still proved enough to propel the Hotshots to their second straight win in the bubble.
Improving to 3-4, the Hotshots moved into the top eight but still need to rack up more victories, starting in the match against Terrafirma today, to lock the spot down and advance to the quarterfinals.
The loss on the rear end of back-to-back games in two days hardly affected TNT’s hold of the lead as well as its sure spot in the next round.
Now at 6-2, the Tropang Giga must also emerge victorious in their last three games to be rewarded a top four slot and a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals.
Bobby Ray Parks had 29 points and 12 rebounds while Jayson Castro added 25 markers for TNT, which fought back from 18 points down to make a game of it but could not match Magnolia’s fiery windup led by on Chris Banchero (19 points).
Earlier, Meralco overcame its error-riddled game and Blackwater’s gritty stand to carve out an 89-85 decision and boost its own bid for the playoffs.
Chris Newsome had 19 points and eight rebounds spiked with some clutch baskets in the stretch to lead the Bolts, who improved to 4-3 despite turning the ball over a whopping 26 times.
In the day’s opener, NLEX continued to stoke its drive for a playoff spot by beating Rain or Shine 94-74, the Road Warriors’ second straight win and third in eight games overall.
It marked the second time NLEX won over a top two team, following a 109-98 upset win over previously unbeaten leader TNT last Thursday, and made possible by its torrid three-point shooting and decisive bench production.
Meralco moved up to sixth-running spot, exactly where coach Norman Black wants his team to be right now.
“Our goal today was to put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs. That’s what we are trying to accomplish,” said Black, whose charges have not made it past the eliminations of the import-less conference since the 2015-16 season.
“We looked it up and I don’t think we’ve made the playoffs for the last four or five years in the all-Filipino conference. We set our goal to win the game today.”
It still took quite some doing.
Don Trollano tried to put Blackwater on his shoulders and highlighted his team-high 16 points with a lay-up to cut the deficit to 78-75. But that would prove to be the Elite’s last stand.
Bonq Quinto sank a triple and Newsome scored on a fadeaway and completed a three-point play that padded Meralco’s lead to 83-75, with 2:15 left.
“It wasn’t a pretty game,” said Black, whose team led by as many as 13 points four times but still could not fully dispose of its rival until the closing minutes.
“We had too many turnovers, a lot of mistakes down the stretch, but we did enough to win the basketball game and that’s what’s important right now,” added Black.
The match even got more testy when Raymar Jose and KG Canaleta were seen swinging forearms against each other during a Blackwater inbound play at the final 5.9 seconds.
Both players were assessed an F2 each and automatically ejected.
Things could get so much better for Meralco if it notches more Ws in its last four games, starting with Rain or Shine today, as it could latch on to one of the top four slots.
The Road Warriors made 16 of their 40 shots from beyond the arc while Kevin Alas and fellow reliever Jericho Cruz combined for 35 of their bench’s 58 points.
Cruz scored 12 of his 17 in the fourth quarter, touched off by back-to-back 3s that pushed NLEX to a 70-59 lead before Anthony Semerad and Kiefer Ravena boomed in a corner triple each to stretch their lead to an insurmountable 90-74.
Road Warriors coach Yeng Guiao said his team’s continuous rise from a 0-3 start should be attributed to his players getting into better game-shape and adopting a more relaxed mind-set.
“I really just took the pressure off the players. Sabi ko, ‘Ang gusto lang nating gawin dito parang nasa training camp lang tayo,’” Guiao said.
“Parang na-relax lang sila,” added Guiao. “Dati parang pressured na pressured kami na manalo, wala ka naman sa kondisyon. I think that compounded our problems.”
Rey Nambatac had 15 for the Elasto Painters, who gave up second-running spot after sliding to 4-2.
NLEX now wants its momentum to spill over when it next takes on San Miguel Beer tomorrow and Alaska on Monday before tackling Terrafirma at the end of the eliminations on Wednesday.