MAGNOLIA Ang Pambansang Manok put in a more tenacious effort than Meralco to claim a 93-85 victory Friday and the first PBA Philippine Cup finals seat at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Ian Sangalang notched game-highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds in leading a Hotshots crew that outworked the Bolts for majority of the game to wrap up their best-of-seven semifinals duel 4-2 and advance to the similar race-to-four championship series against either San Miguel Beer or TNT.
Both Sangalang and coach Chito Victolero now hope the grueling experience they just went through would help toughen their team up in the finals.
"Nakita n'yo naman kung gaano kahirap mag-close ng series, sobrang hirap," said Sangalang, who also added six assists and two steals.
"Pero kami ginawa lang naming talaga kung ano dapat gawin para ma-close ang series na ito," added the 6-foot-7 slotman. "Once na nag-trabaho kami meron kaming chance manalo."
"They gave us a very good series. Grabe rin silang mag-trabaho, grabe rin effort na ibinigay nila," said Victolero, whose team got off to another flat start, even trailing by as many as 11 points early.
"But I give credit to my players, especially down the stretch. We executed. Grabe talaga trinabaho nila," added Victolero. "Alam namin na sobrang mahihirapan kami. We faced the No. 2 team and grabe rin talaga effort na ibinibigay nila. Thank God, ibinigay niya rin sa amin ang lakas."
Raymond Almazan also had his own double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds while the likes of Chris Newsome, Allein Maliksi and Nards Pinto also did their part in trying to help Meralco extend the series.
It's just that Magnolia simply willed itself to the bounce-back game from a 98-102 loss in Game 5 last Wednesday that delayed the Hotshots' return to the finals where they have been to in 2018 and '19.
Concrete example of Magnolia's resolve was its 57-44 superiority in the rebounding battle, including 22-13 off the offensive glass that resulted in a whopping 23-8 advantage in second chance points.
After averaging 21 points in the series' first three games, Paul Lee was held to just 11 in the last two and managed only three charities in Game 6 after missing all his nine tries from the field. Calvin Abueva also fouled out with still 4:36 to go, putting a sorry end to an 11-point, six-rebound game for him.
Still, offense proved to be of little concern for Victolero as Mark Barroca and Rome dela Rosa each chipped in 16 while Jio Jalalon also added 11 markers on top of seven boards, including five offensive rebounds.
Magnolia also got a break when Pinto left the game for good at the 3:36 mark of the third quarter after cramps on his left leg while Allein Maliksi fouled out with still 2:44 left in the game.
Those helped Magnolia gain momentum to erect as much as a 68-57 lead and go on an 11-6 sure after Meralco has closed in to within 74-78. (NC)
Magnolia 93 - Sangalang 19, Barroca 16, Dela Rosa 16, Jalalon 11, Abueva 11, Melton 6, Reavis 6, Corpuz 4, Lee 4, Brill 0, Ahanmisi 0, De Leon 0, Capobres 0, Pascual 0, Dionisio 0.
Meralco 85 - Almazan 16, Newsome 14, Maliksi 13, Pinto 10, Hodge 9, Caram 7, Quinto 7, Hugnatan 6, Belo 3, Black 0, Jackson 0, Jose 0, Pasaol 0, Baclao 0, Jamito 0.
Quarters: 20-27, 44-40, 72-68, 93-85.