No brooms in semis

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Theres one sure thing about the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series. Neither the San Miguel Beer-Meralco battle nor the TNT-Magnolia duel will be a sweep. Both best-of-seven matchups are knotted at a win apiece with tiebreaking Games 3s set at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today.

The series openers were blowouts, raising speculation of a brooming. TNT thrashed Magnolia, 108-96, and led wire-to-wire with 24 its largest margin. San Miguel blasted Meralco, 121-97, and never yielded the drivers seat. The romps werent unexpected. Magnolias previous outing was an exhausting 112-106 OT thriller over NLEX three days before while TNT was coming off a six-day rest. Meralco went through the wringer before eliminating Ginebra, 106-104, and was on the same predicament as Magnolia. TNT had the luxury of a six-day wait like San Miguel.

It was clear that for Magnolia and Meralco to even up their series, they had to play some serious defense. In Game 1, Mikey Williams cut loose for 26 points and RR Pogoy had 23. Together, they sizzled for 6-of-12 triples and as a team, TNT knocked down 13-of-36 compared to Magnolias 8-of-28. The Hotshots shot a lowly 36.4 percent from the field while TNT hit 48.1 percent. Paul Lee, Ian Sangalang, Calvin Abueva, Mark Barroca, Rome de la Rosa and Adrian Wong were a combined 17-of-53 for 32 percent.

Coach Chito Victolero focused on defense in Game 2 and it worked. Williams was held to three points in the first half as the Hotshots set the stage for a rousing comeback. Williams still wound up with 28, 14 in the fourth period, but the rally came too late as TNT never led and fell behind by 19. Pogoy was limited to 11, down 12 from Game 1 and Glenn Khobuntin went from 18 to zero. On offense, the Hotshots were aggressive in attacking the basket with Sangalang delivering 20 points and keying the advantage in paint production, 40-30. Magnolia pulled down more offensive rebounds, 21-11, and had less turnovers, 14-22, to provide 10 more field goal attempts on extra possessions. TNT nearly stole it from Magnolia in the end with Williams and Jayson Castro firing 27 of the Tropas 30 points in the fourth quarter, one more than its entire output in the first half. Magnolia, however, had built too large a lead for TNT to gnaw it away.

The comeback story was the same for Meralco. The Bolts gave up 121 points in Game 1 but only 88 in Game 2 as coach Norman Black brought back Meralcos defensive intensity. San Miguel shot 57.9 percent from the field in Game 1 and 38.2 percent in Game 2 where June Mar Fajardo bled for his 22 points, taking only 10 field goal attempts as he was repeatedly sent to the stripe going 12-of-15. Rodney Brondial, Simon Enciso and Vic Manuel scored 44 points together in Game 1 but only 11 in Game 2. In contrast, Meralco leaned on a balanced attack to get the job done with Cliff Hodge, Toto Jose, Allein Maliksi, Aaron Black and Chris Newsome hitting double figure points.

The win was a warm homecoming for Black who had missed Meralcos previous nine games to attend to family matters in the wake of his mothers death in the US. When Black left, the Bolts were 3-3 and had lost two straight. In his absence, Blacks coaching staff steered the team to a 6-3 mark, including an OT loss to Magnolia. Luigi Trillo, the PBAs coach of the year in 2013, held the fort for Black with support from Ronnie Magsanoc, Charles Tiu, Patrick Fran, Gene Afable and Nenad Vucinic. The teams that win today will be two steps closer to the finals with the prize of representing the country in the EASL inaugural season.


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