By JONAS TERRADO
Game Friday (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Magnolia
The Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok ended their four-year search for a finals berth last night after holding off the NLEX Road Warriors, 96-89, to arrange a showdown with the defending champion San Miguel Beermen for the PBA Philippine Cup title at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Mark Barroca intercepted Kiefer Ravena’s pass before converting a three-point play off a Larry Fonacier with 1:32 remaining to make it 94-89 became the decisive moment that allowed the Hotshots to clinch a 4-2 victory in their series and end a string of bitter defeats marred by semifinal exits in all three conferences last season.
It will be the Hotshots’ first appearance in a title series since the 2014 Governors’ Cup when the then-San Mig Super Coffee Mixers completed the PBA’s fifth grand slam under coach Tim Cone.
This time, the franchise which incidentally won on the 30th anniversary of its very first PBA game will be handled by coach Chito Victolero, who finally made it to a finals series after stints as an NCAA coach for Mapua and as lead assistant of Manny Pacquiao at Kia.
Victolero is hopeful that his defensive-oriented system can translate into the team’s 14th crown against a San Miguel team favored to capture a fourth straight title in the PBA’s oldest and most prestigious tournament.
San Miguel and Magnolia begin their title series on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I’m always trying to convince my players na our defense will win games, and we’ll go to the finals, yun lang ang lagi kong sinasabi sa kanila,” said Victolero.
Meantime, San Miguel coach Leo Austria is making sure that the Beermen remain hungrier and more motivated than ever as they aim for a record fourth straight all-Filipino crown.
MAGNOLIA 96 – Sangalang 15, Barroca 14, Jalalon 11, Ramos 10, Pascual 10, Lee 9, Dela Rosa 9, Reavis 6, Simon 6, Herndon 4, Brondial 2.
NLEX 89 – Miranda 20, Fonacier 17, Baguio 10, Ravena 9, Mallari 8, Taulava 7, Soyud 6, Tiongson 5, Quiñahan 4, Ighalo 3.
Quarters: 20-29, 49-46, 71-68, 96-89.