It was no game-winning shot – far from it, but James Yap savored it as though he had won it at the buzzer for the Star Hotshots.
So did Star coach Jason Webb.
The Hotshots put the brakes on a dangerous four-game losing streak yesterday by turning back the Mahindra Enforcers, 104-96, and moving within a win of clinching a playoff berth in the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Their third win in nine games distanced the Hotshots from 10th-running Mahindra (2-7), 11th-placed Blackwater Elite (1-7) and 12th-ranked Meralco Bolts (1-8). It also gave the TNT Tropang Texters (4-3), Barako Bull (4-4) and NLEX (4-4) free pass to the two-phase quarterfinals where only two slots remain to complete the cast.
Star, Mahindra, Blackwater and Meralco will dispute those berths on their own accord from remaining elimination round games or via sudden death. The inside track belongs to the Hotshots, however, as they go for the one important win against Barako Bull on Dec. 13 and Blackwater on Dec. 18.
A stalled offense and Mahindra’s red-hot outside shooting in the fourth quarter almost cost the Hotshots. But they turned to their defense to set up clutch baskets in the last two minutes and Yap finally hit a big one.
Mark Barroca had 9 of his conference best 26 points in the final period, including four 3-pointers, while Alex Mallari added 20, nine of which also came in the last 12 minutes punctuated by the go-ahead three-point play with two minutes left, 95-94.
“It’s been a while and it’s nice to get a win again,” said Webb, whose last brush with victory came against NLEX on Nov. 8. “Every win is a luxury for us; every chance to play and win a blessing. We need to give out best every time, and today we did.”
Everything for the Hotshots evolved from two defensive plays triggered by sophomore Jake Pascual.
After Barroca cut Mahindra’s lead to 94-92, following the fifth fourth quarter triple by the Enforcers, Pascual swiped the ball from Karl Dehesa and fed Mallari for a breakaway layup and a free throw.
Barroca then stripped a dribbling Paolo Hubalde and flicked a touch pass to a cutting Mallari, who had broken back upon seeing Barroca pull off his sleight-of-hand.
In the other game, the TNT Tropang Texters (5-3) foiled Rain or Shine’s bid to join defending champion San Miguel Beer and Alaska atop the standings after routing the Elasto Painters, 95-85, in a bewildering lopsided match which saw ROS (6-2) miss its first 21 shots from 3-point range and fall behind by as many as 25 points.
It was 17-0 to start with, 23-3 at one point, and 34-9 at the height of TNT’s dominance. RoS was 4 of 26 from rainbow territory overall, with its big men throwing bricks all night long: Beau Belga (0 of 4), Gabe Norwood (0 of 3), Raymond Almazan (0 of 3) and JR Quinahan (0 of 3).
“We had a good start, our shots were falling in,” said TNT coach Jong Uichico. “Some credit may be due our defense for this win although we kind of relaxed towards the end.”
STAR 104 – Barroca 26, Mallari 20, Yap 15, Simon 11, Pascual J. 10, Taha 6, Pingris 5, Sangalang 4, Melton 3, Cruz 2, Torres 2.
MAHINDRA 96 – Ramos 26, Dehesa 24, Pascual 11, Canaleta 8, Guinto 8, Yee 8, Revilla 5, DiGregorio 4, Hubalde 2, Alvarez 0, Pinto 0, Webb 0.
Quarters: 24-18, 46-42, 73-69, 104-96.
TNT 95 – Tautuaa 27, Rosario 19, Fonacier 9, Castro 9, Rosser 8, Reyes R. 8, Carey 4, Miranda 4, Williams 4, Aban 3, Reyes J. 0.
RAIN OR SHINE 85 – Quinahan 21, Chan 15, Cruz 14, Almazan 13, Ahanmisi 8, Trollano 5, Belga 3, Nimes 2, Norwood 2, Matias 1, Tiu 1, Ibanes 0, Ponferada 0.
Quarters: 34-11, 50-27, 70-54, 95-85