NICK Rakocevic played through a sprained ankle in the closing minutes, and his mere presence on the floor proved enough to boost his Magnolia teammates.
With Rakocevic right there in the battle, the Hotshots played clutch at the finish, withstanding the gritty Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters, 102-95, to claim a ticket to the PBA Commissioner's Cup Final Four at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig Friday.
Calvin Abueva spearheaded their closing assault, firing back-to-back baskets to trigger the Hotshots' key run from a slim 90-86 lead en route to the victory that sent them to the semifinals versus the winner of the Barangay Ginebra-NorthPort matchup.
One-to-zero up in a best-of-three quarters series, coach Tim Cone and his troops go for the clincher Saturday in the same playing venue. A win sets the stage for an explosive Manila Clasico semis.
Abueva led all scorers with 19 points, with Paul Lee, Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon doing their usual stuffs for a Magnolia side handled by assistant coach Jason Webb with head coach Chito Victolero observing health protocols.
Rakocevic sat out crucial minutes in the second half after twisting his ankle on a bad fall, but provided a boost as he returned to play in the crunch.
Though his effectiveness clipped, the Serbian import made his presence felt in defending, getting the rebounds and setting picks. Nonetheless, he collected double-double numbers with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Barroca fired 16, Lee rifled in 15 and Adrian Wong added 11 as the Hotshots dropped the axe on the Fuel Masters.
But coach Topex Robinson and his chargers didn't take the exit without a fight.
The seventh seeds dragged the Hotshots into a battle as import Kaleb Wesson came through with a near triple-double with 16 markers, 12 boards and nine dish-offs and the Phoenix locals put up a tough stand even minus RJ Jazul.
Tyler Tio banged away three treys to highlight an 18-point game off the bench.
Encho Serrano also scored 16 points while Jason Perkins and Javee Mocon scattered 12 apiece. (SB)