Hotshots on cusp of finals

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star
Hotshots on cusp of finals
San Miguel ace behemoth June Mar Fajardo protects the ball from a TNT double-team defense.
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Beermen strike back again versus Tropa

MANILA, Philippines — Magnolia reasserted itself against injury-hit rival Meralco yesterday in Bacolor, Pampanga, 81-69, to plant its foot on the doorstep of the 46th PBA Philippine Cup finals.

After conceding the third match, the Hotshots unleashed their tested defensive spunk to quickly get back on track and seize a commanding 3-1 edge in the race-to-four semifinal contest.

Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang and Mark Barroca fired identical 17 points to offset the nine-point production of gunner Paul Lee and move Magnolia one win away from returning to the Last Dance after back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2019.

“Good job sa team, collective effort on both ends,” said Barroca, whose clutch triple restored a 77-69 cushion after the Raymond Almazan-less Bolts chipped away the Hotshots’ 20-point margin.

Earlier, San Miguel Beer, routed in Game 3, bounced back mightily and did the same to TNT, 116-90, to force a 2-2 deadlock in their face-off.

Summoning their old deadly selves in a must-win outing, the Beermen stifled the shorthanded Tropang Giga and unleashed wave after wave of inside and outside attacks to send the best-of-seven series back to square one.

“Our loss in the third game was really an embarrassment and we’re not able to sleep because of that,” said SMB coach Leo Austria, referring to TNT’s 115-98 romp last Friday.

“Everybody stepped up today. From start to finish, they played really good defense. They realized there’s no tomorrow if we went down 1-3 because it’s very hard to recover from that especially when you’re up against TNT,” he added.

Mo Tautuaa posted a conference-high 25 points with nine rebounds while June Mar Fajardo had a 13-point, 12-rebound double-double as they pounded it against a Kelly Williams-less TNT frontline further decimated by the exit of Poy Erram.

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