By JONAS TERRADO
Magnolia Pambansang Manok and Meralco meet to decide which team gets the right to face Barangay Ginebra San Miguel for the championship in the do-or-die fifth game of their PBA Governors’ Cup semifinal series Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Tipoff is set at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to the best-of-seven finals against Ginebra, the first team to reach the pinnacle of the reinforced tournament after dispatching NLEX via four games.
Game 1 of the championship series is set April 6.
The Hotshots forced the decider following their 94-73 rout of the Bolts, shrugging off an 11-0 deficit at the start behind import Mike Harris, Calvin Abueva and Paul Lee.
Lee was exceptional for Magnolia with 17 points despite an ankle injury that hampered him in the last two games which saw Meralco winning both times.
He has vowed to give it his all like in the previous game as Magnolia aims to set up a Manila Clasico final against Ginebra.
Coach Chito Victolero is bracing for things to heat up with a huge stake on the line.
“We expect a very physical game, just like the first four games,” said Victolero. “It’s a do-or-die game so we’ll just try to have that proper mindset, yung mental toughness namin on both ends of the floor. We need to have that on Friday.”
But Meralco is determined to foil those plans even after its sorry defeat and arrange a fourth meeting with Ginebra for the championship of the reinforced tournament.
Meralco, however, will have to deal with the potential absence of guard Chris Banchero, who didn’t play most of the game after being hit in the chest area.
It will be important for the Bolts to have a healthy Banchero on the floor in their quest to set up a fifth straight final pitting teams from corporate rivals San Miguel Corporation and MVP Group.
“They seemed to be hungrier,” said Meralco coach Norman Black on the Game 4 defeat. “The fact they dominated the rebounds. They were able to get a lot of offensive rebounds which shows the fact that they were very aggressive.
“They played quite well today. They played like their backs were against the wall.”