By JONAS TERRADO
Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – NLEX vs Magnolia
(NLEX leads series 1-0)
The NLEX Road Warriors shoot for a 2-0 lead against a Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok squad that need any motivation it can get following Marc Pingris’ series-ending knee injury in tonight’s Game 2 of their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup semifinals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
NLEX took Saturday’s series opener, 88-87, behind the late-game heroics of Kiefer Ravena, timely contributions from Alex Mallari and Cyrus Baguio and a defensive resolve that forced Magnolia ace shooter Paul Lee to deal with an off-shooting night.
Despite the grindout victory and confidence that it can prevail in the series despite the underdog label, Road Warriors coach Yeng Guiao is wary of another struggle with the Hotshots, whose deep roster can make up for any struggles of the main guns like Lee.
“I know Paul. He knows pinaghahandaan ko siya so sa next game babawi yun,” said Guiao of Lee, held to just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. “The hard part is even if you control Paul, they have other guards who stepped up (in Game 1). PJ Simon nahirapan talaga kami sa kanya and then it was Ian (Sangalang) who kept them in the fight.”
Sangalang made things difficult for NLEX at the paint with 21 points while Simon turned back the hands of time with 20 points.
The Road Warriors, though, also got a vintage showing from one of their veterans in Cyrus Baguio, a Guiao disciple who scored 17 points while providing the quality minutes during the fourth quarter.
Ravena made the crucial plays down the stretch, including a pass to an open Mallari that gave NLEX the lead for good, 86-84.
Magnolia felt it wasted a golden chance at gaining a headstart in the series. Worse, coach Chito Victolero has ruled out Pingris for the rest of the series after injuring his left knee while driving to the lane with 4:39 left in the fourth quarter and the Hotshots leading 76-73.
Simon said Magnolia should capitalize on many adversities it endured aside from Pingris’ injury, citing the team’s semifinal defeats in all three conferences last season.
“As of now, kahit anong motivation, lahat ng motivation siguro kailangan gamitin na namin kasi sobrang hungry na rin kami makarating ng finals ulit,” said Simon, who was part of the team’s last finals appearance in the 2014 Governors’ Cup when the then-San Mig Super Coffee Mixers won the grand slam under Tim Cone.
“Medyo mahaba-haba pa naman yung series, ang problema lang is medyo undermanned kami ngayon and hopefully, makarecover kaagad yung mga may injuries sa amin,” added Simon, citing mild foot injuries sustained by guards Mark Barroca and Justin Melton.