Calvin Abueva (with ball, above photo) pierces the gut of the Meralco defense and comes up clutch in the fourth for Magnolia while Roger Pogoy (dribbling) paces TNT with 23 points. —PHOTOS COURTESY OF PBA IMAGES

One finishing kick came through, another was held back and after Day 1 of skirmishes in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, Magnolia and TNT on Sunday ended up holding leads over separate foes in best-of-seven series many see have the promise of going the full route.

Calvin Abueva was the fourth quarter catalyst for the Hotshots as he survived foul trouble to bail out Magnolia in an 88-79 victory over Meralco, while the top-ranked Tropang Giga hung on to dear life when everything was in the balance against San Miguel Beer and carved out a tightrope 89-88 win at Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.

A do-it-all forward who missed the Finals last year after Phoenix fell a win short, Abueva scored eight of 13 points in the payoff period, ensuring the Hotshots wouldn’t suffer another meltdown at the hands of the Bolts.

Defense does it

“He was really a big help. He got rebounds, provided energy both on offense and defense,” coach Chito Victolero said of Abueva, whom he fielded at the risk of fouling out again just like in that loss to Meralco during the eliminations where Magnolia blew a double digit spread in the dying minutes to lose by one.“It’s really different having Calvin on the floor,” Victolero went on.

While it was offense that pulled it out for the Hotshots, the Tropang Giga needed every bit of their defensive brilliance in the stretch to hold off the Beermen.

TNT was in the lead by 10 heading into the final half of the fourth only to see the Beermen come charging back and gain a chance to win it in the literal dying second until Marcio Lassiter was forced to miss a floating jumper. “San Miguel can beat you in a number of ways. It can be ball screen-last shot, an isolation play, [or through the] post. We just said, let’s play our straight-up defense as best as we can and we’ll just see what happens,” said TNT coach Chot Reyes.

Roger Pogoy led all TNT shooters with 23 points, while Jayson Castro, Poy Erram and Troy Rosario all finished in twin digits in a balanced effort that had San Miguel playing catch up for most of the night.

Not wanting to go down without a fight, CJ Perez and Arwind Santos took turns making tough shot after tough shot to bring the Beermen to what turned out to be the final score with nine seconds remaining.

3-sided Magnolia attack

Pogoy, who logged his finest scoring effort here, was also the one who picked up Lassiter defensively in the final sequence, preventing what would’ve been a stunning comeback.

“I think the key was us believing we could compete with them and then expecting that they will come back,” Reyes said of the only team that beat them in the eliminations. “They’re too talented, too experienced not to come back.” The TNT defense also forced 23 errors on the Beermen, which resulted in 23 Tropang Giga points.

“You really have to bring your A-game just to beat [the Beermen],” Pogoy said.

“The only way we can win this series is to put in a stronger effort. If we give a bit more effort than the other team, then we’ll have a chance. But it’s a gargantuan effort,” Reyes said.

Abueva’s late-game efforts sealed the early heroics of Ian Sangalang and Paul Lee, who finished with 18 and 17 points, respectively, in the hotly-contested series-opener where neither side was willing to budge an inch until the final four minutes.

Game 2s of both series will be played likely on Wednesday after the league performs its mandatory health protocols. INQ

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