MANILA (UPDATE) - The Magnolia Hotshots underscored their status as top contenders in the 2021 PBA Governors' Cup, after running away with an impressive 117-94 win against defending champion Barangay Ginebra on Christmas Day.
In front of 4,843 fans at the Araneta Coliseum -- the biggest crowd in the COVID-19 pandemic era so far -- the Hotshots utilized their stifling defense and perimeter shooting to hand the Gin Kings their first loss of the conference.
It was the first Manila Clasico held on Christmas Day since 2017, and the night was made more special by the jersey retirement ceremony of Magnolia icons Peter June Simon and Marc Pingris at halftime.
"We're properly motivated, because it's Christmas Day also. And, plus the fact that PJ and Ping, kumbaga sila 'yung bisita namin eh. Binibigay din namin sa kanila 'yung larong 'to," Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said after the game.
The Hotshots have now won the last three editions of the Manila Clasico, dating back to the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.
Import Mike Harris set the tone for Magnolia in the first quarter and wound up with 29 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. Paul Lee had 20 points, including a crucial triple in the fourth quarter to keep Ginebra at bay, before exiting with five minutes left after an apparent injury.
The Hotshots also got solid contributions from Jio Jalalon (12 points, nine assists), Jerrick Ahanmisi (10 points), Calvin Abueva (13 points), and Rome dela Rosa, who was superb defensively and helped bother Ginebra's Justin Brownlee.
"We established the defense early, and then we limit their second chance points. That's one of the key factors in this game. And then, we just want to be aggressive and control the pace of the game," said Victolero.
Magnolia led 29-20 after the first quarter but broke the game open in the second frame, wherein they out-scored the Gin Kings, 32-22. Abueva came off the bench to provide a boost of energy for the Hotshots; his three-pointer with under 11 minutes to play pushed them ahead by double-digits, 34-22.
Ahanmisi waxed hot from the perimeter to pad Magnolia's lead, and Harris was unstoppable inside the paint. On the other end, the Hotshots foiled Ginebra's offense, with the Gin Kings firing blanks from beyond the arc.
Ginebra would miss their first 12 three-pointers of the game before Arvin Tolentino found his rhythm in the fourth quarter. The sophomore forward made all four of his triples in the final period, the last of which made it a 19-point game, 105-86, with still 5:12 to play.
Lee was also injured in the sequence and had to be helped off the floor, though he walked off on his own power. Despite missing their top local scorer in the final five minutes, Magnolia showed no signs of panic: Dela Rosa nailed a triple in their next possession, and Harris added a three-pointer of his own off a Ginebra turnover to make it a 25-point game, 111-86, with four minutes to go.
"They got going right there at the end of the game, hitting some outside shots. They're a great team. It's just, today was our day," Harris would say afterward.
Ginebra would not threaten the rest of the way, as they suffered their first loss of the conference after winning their first three games.
Magnolia, meanwhile, improved to 3-0 to go on top of the league standings. The Hotshots are one of two teams to remain unbeaten, with the other being the 2-0 Meralco Bolts.
The Gin Kings shot 50% from the field but were just 6-of-22 from beyond the arc. Their 18 turnovers were translated into 22 points by the Hotshots.
Brownlee scored just 21 points along with 12 assists, and committed five turnovers. Tolentino had 15 points, while Japeth Aguilar put up 14 points and 11 rebounds.
This was the most lopsided Manila Clasico since the Gin Kings crushed the Hotshots, 106-80, in Game 2 of the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals.
Magnolia 117 - Harris 29, Lee 20, Abueva 13, Jalalon 12, Barroca 11, Ahanmisi 10, Sangalang 9, Dela Rosa 8, Dionisio 5, Corpuz 0.
Barangay Ginebra 94 - Brownlee 21, Tolentino 15, J. Aguilar 14, Standhardinger 13, Tenorio 11, Salado 7, Thompson 6, Onwubere 6, Enriquez 1, Caperal 0, Chan 0.
Quarters: 29-20, 61-42, 93-67, 117-94.