Victolero: Game 6 do-or-die for Hotshots
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 17, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It’s Alaska whose back is against the wall entering Game 6 of the PBA Governors Cup Finals at the Ynares Center in Antipolo on Wednesday but Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said yesterday he’s treating the potential clincher as a do-or-die battle for the Hotshots.

Magnolia took Game 5, 79-78, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Friday and is now a win away from bagging the title with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Hotshots won Game 1, 100-84, and Game 2, 77-71 but the Aces roared back to even the count by thrashing Magnolia in Game 3, 100-71 and Game 4, 90-76.

The tie-breaking Game 5 went down to the wire in a classic climax with Paul Lee, who’d missed eight of his previous 11 attempts from the field, knocking down a baseline jumper to lift Magnolia on top by a point, time down to 1.3 ticks. Alaska’s Mike Harris was short on a fadeaway at the buzzer. Lee, named Best Player of the Conference before Game 4, hadn’t been particularly impactful in the series until he buried the winning shot. In the first four Finals outings, Lee averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists, hitting 32.6 percent from the field and 17.6 percent from the three-point radius. Before the Finals, he averaged 17.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists, shooting 39 percent from the field and 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Victolero, chasing his first PBA crown like Alaska coach Alex Compton, said it was God’s will that Lee converted. “The last play was set up for (Romeo) Travis,” he said. “We wanted Paul to create for Travis or if Travis was covered, for Ian (Sangalang). Travis got the ball and drove strong to the basket but was blocked. Luckily, Paul got the loose ball and shot it. That was God’s will.”

Victolero said he’s not thinking of Magnolia’s advantage. “It’s like we’re up 1-0 in a best-of-three but I’m treating Game 6 like a do-or-die,” he said. “We’re not thinking of a Game 7. I told the guys bihira ang pagkakataon to play in a Finals like this, to give their best, to enjoy the moment, to respond to the challenge. I know there’s pressure but I don’t want the guys to feel it. I want them to enjoy this experience, to work hard on both ends and darating na lang ang swerte.”

Victolero said it’s been a drag-out series. “Duguan ito sa puntusan,” he said. “I expected the physicality from the start kasi both our teams play tough defense. I told the guys don’t be surprised if we just score in the 60s or 70s, don’t be frustrated. Playing physical is a given, tanggapin natin ‘yan. Let’s play tough but not rough, not dirty.”

After Mark Barroca was slapped a fine of P50,000 for his below-the-belt strike on Chris Banchero in Game 4, Victolero said he told the feisty guard to take it like a man. “I know what Mark is like as a person,” he said.  “He plays hard. Whatever happened, I told him to move on, bounce back and accept the challenge. Sila ni Banchero, magkaibigan off the court but they’re both competitors. Walang atrasan sila. I’m happy Mark had a good showing in Game 5.” Barroca finished with 14 points while Banchero was held to only three.

Victolero credited the Hotshots for settling down after blowing a 17-point lead in the second quarter as Alaska started the second half with a 20-2 blast to race ahead, 60-55, in the third period of Game 5. “I pacified the guys,” he said. “I told them the game was still close so it was important to stay together. Jio (Jalalon) and Justin (Melton) gave us a lot of energy in holding back Alaska.”

The Hotshots were limited to only two field goals and 12 points in the third stanza but kept the lead, 65-62, to start the fourth. Alaska trailed, 74-66 as Magnolia threatened to pull away but Simon Enciso hit a three to ignite a 10-0 run that pushed the Aces back in the driver’s seat, 76-74, time down to 1:17. Alaska could’ve iced it with a conversion off a 3-on-1 fastbreak but Kevin Racal missed a layup and Jake Pascual flubbed a put-back then Lee fed Sangalang who completed a three-point play on the other end, time down to 18.7 seconds. Harris countered with two free throws to give Alaska back the lead, 78-77, with 11.4 ticks left. Lee sealed it with a dagger jumper.

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