By JONAS TERRADO
Magnolia Pambansang Manok aims for a commanding 3-0 lead over Meralco while San Miguel Beer and TNT break their 1-1 tie Friday in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The Hotshots look to put the stranglehold on their best-of-seven duel with the Bolts in the 3 p.m. match while the Beermen hope to carry on the momentum of their dramatic come-from-behind victory the last time in the 6 p.m. meeting with the Tropang Giga.
Capitalizing on the loss of Raymond Almazan to injury and Cliff Hodge because of an ejection in the third quarter, Magnolia prevailed 92-78 on Wednesday, Oct. 6 to move two wins shy of securing its first finals appearance since the 2019 Philippine Cup.
Almazan will be missing this afternoon’s contest after spraining his left ankle while battling Ian Sangalang for the rebound, but Magnolia coach Chito Victolero warned that Meralco is still capable of staging a comeback.
“We treat every game as a very important game, kung ano man yon,” Victolero said. “We’ll treat the game possession by possession.”
The trio of Paul Lee, who scored 26 points in Game 2, Calvin Abueva and Sangalang will again be integral in Magnolia’s bid to send Meralco to a dreaded hole that only been done one in a best-of-seven series.
SMB’s morale is very high after Marcio Lassiter’s putback at the buzzer sealed a 98-96 win after being down by 19.
Beermen coach Leo Austria, however, doesn’t see the win as a drastic momentum shift, given that TNT is a potent opponent that could deliver a bounce back effort.
The Tropang Giga have also leading for much of the series with their play on both ends.
“I’m happy for this team dahil they did not give up and may kasama na rin kaming swerte,” said Austria. “But alam ko yung swerte, ibinibigay sa mga player na buo ang determination and imagine we’re down by 19 so it’s a little bit of a miracle.
“But kung sinasabi mong kung magbibigay ng confidence, kaunti lang e. Dahil itong kalaban namin, they will think and they will do everything to know what really happened dito sa game namin. You can never know kung ano pang mangyayari. But knowing that team, a very organized team, iisa-isahin nila, iaanalyze nila what happened.”
SMB’s Terrence Romeo could be the player to watch after he finally broke out of his sluggish showing since coming back from an Achilles injury to score 24 of his 26 points in the second half.
TNT, meanwhile, has been finding ways to have rookie guard Mikey Williams produce on offense after averaging just 9.5 points on a combined 8-of-28 shooting in the first two games.