Live or die

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Magnolia is in a dire predicament but Hotshots coach Chito Victolero isnt about to raise the white flag despite going down 1-3 in the PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinal series against TNT. Game 5 is scheduled at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today and another loss will strike Magnolia out of contention for good.

TNT is a win away from barging into the finals and with a thrice-to-beat advantage, the probability is the Tropa will clinch if not today then in Game 6 or 7. TNT is the defending champion and won the previous title, 4-1 over Magnolia in the finals. The Hotshots arent thinking beyond Game 5. The mindset is to live another day. If Magnolia survives Game 5, then Victolero will figure out what to do in Game 6. If Magnolia survives Game 6, then the ticket to the finals will be up for grabs in a winner-take-all Game 7.

Victoleros challenge is how to bounce back strong from the 102-84 shellacking Magnolia took in Game 4 last Wednesday. One key adjustment is Calvin Abueva coming off the bench in Game 5. Abueva didnt start in Magnolias last five elimination games, all of which the Hotshots won then he was on the first five in the teams 112-106 OT win over NLEX to close out the quarterfinals. In the semis, Abueva started the last two games, both of which Magnolia lost. In Game 4, Abueva got into early foul trouble and never found his groove to finish with two points in 21:13 minutes.

Abueva himself said hes better off playing in the second group. Victolero agreed so that change is expected today. If Abueva doesnt start, wholl take his place? Jio Jalalon isnt playing 100 percent but hes giving it his all just the same. Jalalon is averaging four points over the last three outings when in the eliminations, he hit at a 13.1 clip. Mark Barroca has to work double time to compensate. But for Magnolia to make an impact with its physical backcourt pressure, Victolero needs both Barroca and Jalalon on the court fully charged.

TNTs weapon of choice has been the three-point shot in the semis. The Tropa knocked down 13 in Game 1 then in a statement of consistency, did it again in Games 2 and 3. In Game 4, TNT exceeded the quota and buried 16, taking only three less attempts from three than two. Since Magnolia shot just five threes, TNT had a monstrous 33-point advantage from deep. TNT also outrebounded the Hotshots, 50-43, reversing a trend that was coach Chot Reyescause for concern from Games 1 to 3. But it wasnt all bad news for Magnolia in Game 4. Ian Sangalang continued his hot streak and scored 19 points. Paul Lee delivered 17 points. Aris Dionisio was a spark off the bench with 14. If Abueva doesnt start today and Jalalon isnt totally ready, Victolero might consider Dionisio to fill in as replacement. It wont be easy deflating TNTs surge but Magnolia is left no option to stay alive.


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