Magnolia Pambansang Manok moved on the doorstep of its first semifinal appearance in more than two years after an 81-70 win over Rain or Shine yesterday in the opener of their PBA Philippine Cup best-of-three quarterfinals at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.

The offense of Paul Lee and Ian Sangalang sparked the Hotshots in the second half of another defensive-minded affair between the two squads to close in on ending a string of quarterfinal exits.

Coach Chito Victolero’s squad try to finish off Rain or Shine in Game 2 tentatively scheduled on Thursday, Sept. 30, and advance to the semifinals for the first time since a runner-up finish in the 2019 Philippine Cup.

“We worked on our execution on both ends of the floor,” said Victolero. “That’s why we kept on grinding. Nakita niyo naman we’re down in the first half pero sa second half, we kept on executing. And I think that’s the most important thing, to execute, and we got the W.”

Lee bucked a 6-of-22 shooting to finish with 20 points while Sangalang added 19 points and 13 rebounds for Magnolia.

Trailing 42-37 at the break, the Hotshots responded with Sangalang scoring eight in the third while limiting the Elasto Painters to the same amount of points on just 13 from the field.

Magnolia led by a high of 13 points at 60-47 near the end of the third but had to withstand a Rain or Shine fightback led by versatile rookie big man Santi Santillan, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the payoff period.

Rain or Shine closed to within four and five twice in the fourth but Magnolia stayed afloat with Lee firing 14 in the final quarter, including a three-pointer with 1:10 for a 77-67 lead that put the game on ice.

Jio Jalalon and Rome dela Rosa scored 10 points apiece while Calvin Abueva had eight points and 13 rebounds on the day he was announced as the leader of the Best Player of the Conference race at the end of the eliminations.

Santillan also had 12 rebounds for Rain or Shine while Rey Nambatac added 16 points and Javee Mocon put up 11 points, five rebounds and three assists.

Nambatac and Mocon, however, were a combined 9-of-26 from the field, something Rain or Shine hopes to resolve with the campaign on the line.

Coach Chris Gavina called the shots for Rain or Shine with a heavy heart after his mother Lilia died last Sept. 22 because of an illness.

The scores:

MAGNOLIA 81 — Lee 20, Sangalang 19, Dela Rosa 10, Jalalon 10, Barroca 8, Abueva 8, Corpuz 4, Pascual 2, Reavis 0, Ahanmisi 0, Dionisio 0.

RAIN OR SHINE 70 — Santillan 17, Nambatac 16, Mocon 11, Belga 8, Borboran 5,  Caracut 3, Norwood 3, Ponferada 3, Torres 2, Yap 2, Wong 0, Asistio 0.

Quarters: 21-16, 37-42, 60-50, 81-70.

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