Magnolia proved to be too big a roadblock for NLEX to hurdle.
The Hotshots produced a more all-around effort, especially down the stretch, in stumping the Road Warriors, 96-89, last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to advance to the PBA Philippine Cup finals series.
Ian Sangalang, Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon shone the most for Magnolia as it wrapped up the best-of-seven semi-finals duel, 4-2, and made it to a similar race-to-four matchup against titleholder San Miguel Beer in a championship series that starts Friday.
It would also mark the first time the Hotshots made it to the finals under coach Chito Victolero after they can't get past the semi-finals in each of their first three conferences together last season.
"We are glad that we were able to get over the hump, " Victolero said. "As I told my players before, we have to be patient, go through the process,” he said.
Magnolia's poise spelled the big difference in a game, which saw six deadlocks and the combatants entering the last two minutes separated by just two points.
That was when NLEX ultimately collapsed as it went 0-of-3 from the field and committed two turnovers in its last five offensive thrusts that doomed its bid to prolong its first-ever semifinals stint.
Meanwhile, Barroca's completed three-point play and Jalalon's fastbreak layup made it a 96-89 game, which practically sealed the deal for the Hotshots.
Sangalang bucked early foul trouble to finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Barroca also had his own double-double with 14 and 10.
Jalalon finished with a series-high 13 assists to go with his 11 points, aside from alternating with Barroca and Rome dela Rosa in defending Kiefer Ravena. Even seldom-used Kyle Pascual did his part with 10 markers.
Ravena scored nine points but only on 3-of-17 field shooting, enabling Mike Miranda to take game scoring honors with a career-high 20 points on top of eight rebounds.
Larry Fonacier had his own personal series-high 17 points and fellow veteran Cyrus Baguio 10, but the absence of the injured Kevin Alas and the ejection of JR Quinahan proved too much of a handicap for the Road Warriors.
In the end, NLEX's inability to sustain a good start did it in as it was held down to a 32-of-78 field shooting in stark contrast to its 12-of-23 clip in the opening quarter that netted it two 11-point spreads, helped along by Sangalang committing three fouls.
Despite their shooting steadily going south, the Road Warriors still kept the game tight, charging back from a 62-69 third quarter deficit to tie the game twice and come within 89-91 off two Alex Mallari freebies.
The way NLEX managed to put up a good fight despite its handicaps was not lost on Victolero. "Credit to coach Yeng (Guiao). They didn’t give p. It was very hard for us to get this win," he said.*pba.com
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