MANILA (UPDATED) - Magnolia weathered the absence of Calvin Abueva in the closing stages to fend off the Meralco Bolts, 81-69, and move to the brink of a finals appearance in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup.
Abueva, the leading contender for Best Player of the Conference, had to sit out the final four minutes and 11 seconds of the game after being called for a flagrant foul.
But the Hotshots got a clutch field goal from Mark Barroca, and their defense held strong in crunch time as they came away with a crucial triumph in Game 4 of their best-of-seven semifinals series, held on Sunday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Magnolia now leads the series 3-1, while the Bolts, who entered the series as the second seed, are on the brink of elimination.
"Ang sinabi ko sa mga bata, we need to stay composed," said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, whose wards were stout defensively all throughout the game, preventing the Bolts from reaching the 20-point mark in any of the four quarters.
"We know na babalik sila, this is not an easy game. And, the experience of Mark and the experience of my players, kumbaga, dumating sa kanila 'yun eh. So we stayed composed in our last possession," he added.
The Hotshots were in control for most of the way, and their lead grew to 22 points, 64-42, in the third quarter.
But veteran Reynel Hugnatan sparked Meralco's comeback in the fourth period, which was helped along when Abueva was called for a flagrant foul with 4:11 left after a rebounding sequence with Cliff Hodge left both players on the floor.
Abueva had to sit out the rest of the game, and two free throws by Hodge trimmed the deficit to 10 points, 74-64. Chris Newsome would drill a jumpshot and Hugnatan nailed a three-pointer that closed the gap to five points, 74-69, with still 2:37 left to play.
But Barroca, who was limited to only two points in Magnolia's Game 3 loss on Friday, showed no panic. He knocked down a crucial three-pointer with 2:12 left, padding the lead to eight points, 77-69. On the other end, Magnolia forced Anjo Caram into a missed three, and after Paul Lee missed a shot, Rafi Reavis grabbed the offensive board and was subsequently fouled
The Hotshots clamped down on defense the rest of the way, and Meralco ended up missing its last six shots after getting to within five points. On the other end, Ian Sangalang and Barroca hit their free throws to ensure that the Bolts would get no closer.
"We weathered the storm," said Victolero. "I think, 'yun talagang multiple effort, 'yun talaga ang susi doon eh. From start to finish, 'yun 'yung ginawa talaga namin. That's the key factor, our multiple effort on both ends of the floor."
The Hotshots are now just one game away from their third Philippine Cup Finals appearance in the last four seasons. In 2019, they pushed eventual champions San Miguel to the brink but lost Game 7 in heartbreaking fashion.
Sangalang, Abueva, and Barroca each scored 17 points, while Jio Jalalon had 10 points. With Abueva and Sangalang leading the way, the Hotshots grabbed 19 offensive rebounds that they turned into 23 points. They also scored 26 points off Meralco's 22 turnovers.
Hugnatan finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, while Hodge scored 13 and Newsome added 11 markers for the Bolts.
Meralco continues to play without Raymond Almazan, who suffered an ankle injury in Game 2.
MAGNOLIA 81 – Barroca 17, Abueva 17, Sangalang 17, Jalalon 10, Lee 9, Ahanmisi 5, Dionisio 4, Corpuz 1, Reavis 1, Dela Rosa 0
MERALCO 69 – Hugnatan 21, Hodge 13, Newsome 11, Quinto 7, Pinto 6, Belo 3, Maliksi 2, Pasaol 3, Baclao 3, Caram 0
Quarters : 23-18, 46-35, 68-50, 81-69