Nov 13, 2018

Extra-cautious Hotshots brace for Kings' never-say-die spirit

RECENT history and the bitter lessons it brought home are keeping Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok's feet firmly planted on the ground.

That's why the Hotshots go into their PBA Governors Cup semifinal duel with Barangay Ginebra at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Wednesday armed with extra determination tempered by caution against a Kings squad known for its legendary never-say-die" spirit.

Last Monday, Magnolia carved a 101-97 follow-up to its 106-98 victory in the best-of-five series opener, giving it three cracks at closing the deal starting in Game 3.

Despite his Hotshots being on the verge of a second finals stint this season coach Chito Victolero remains focused on the task at hand - and for good reason.

In its colorful history since joining the league in 1979 as Gilbey's Gin, Ginebra has only dug itself out of such a 0-2 hole once in a similar race-to-three duel, during its controversy-filled 2010 Philippine Cup quarterfinals series with Talk N Text.

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League records also show that since the best-of-five semis was institutionalized in 1993, 36 of 37 teams which went up 2-0 won the series.

There is one instance last year which nags at Victolero the most, however.

Against Victolero and the Hotshots in last season's Philippine Cup best-of-seven semis, the Kings overcame deficits of 0-2 and 2-3 to beat the team then known as Star.

"I have asked my players to remember that at iyun 'yung magiging inspiration namin siguro for the (rest of the) series," said Victolero. "We've experienced that before and we'll try our best na sana makuha namin iyung pangatlong panalo."

Even Magnolia import Romeo Travis can't stress enough how crucial Game 3 would be, knowing fully well that to give Ginebra the opening to stay alive and keep on fighting could spell trouble.

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"It's of utmost importance," said Travis. "That team is amazing, that's a great team, perennial champions. You don't wanna keep playing them.

"You don't wanna keep giving them opportunities so this is the most important game of the year for us. That's just what we wanna do, you don't wanna give this team chances."

Magnolia already had a big scare in Game 2 last Monday, when Ginebra came charging back from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit and threaten within two, going to the game's last 24 seconds.

Good thing for the Hotshots the Kings were unable to bring home the fightback, while Paul Lee and Travis sealed the deal from the stripe.

One thing that went for Magnolia is the ejection, due to successive technical fouls, of Ginebra coach Tim Cone with still 9:18 left in the game.

Cone refused to talk to the media after the game, but chief deputy Richard del Rosario said the reigning back-to-back champions will not just shot up for the game.

"We still have faith in our players and the character of the team because of past experiences," said Del Rosario. "We will be okay."

That is what Victolero is wary of as he prepares for whatever tinkering Ginebra may do to free up Justin Brownlee more from Rome dela Rosa's defense and keep Travis and Lee from taking over.

"Sa ngayon di ko pa alam kung ano magiging adjustment," said Victolero.

"Sa ngayon, pahinga players so we can have the energy on Wednesday. Walkthrough lang bukas (Tuesday) pero ang importante iyung mental preparation." (NC)