Magnolia Hotshots outlast Phoenix Fuel Masters, 102-95, to book semis ticket
Playing through a sprained ankle in the dying minutes, Nick Rakocevic’s mere presence gave the Magnolia Hotshots, The needed boost to survive past the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters, 102-95, Friday, December 9, at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City en route to booking a seat in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Final Four.
The Serbian import returned to play at crunch time having sat out in the crucial minutes of the second half after he twisted his ankle following a nasty fall. He left early in the third but came back in the final four minutes, knocking down crucial baskets to snatch a 76-74 lead from a 62-67 deficit heading into the fourth period.
He then drilled four straight points in an 8-0 blitz that broke an 86-86 deadlock in the final canto as the Hotshots escaped past the valiant Fuel Masters who put up a gallant fight sans five of their teammates are sidelined due to health and safety protocols.
RJ Jazul, RR Garcia, Larry Muyang, Chris Lalata, and Simon Camacho were the five players who missed the Game 2 action.
Despite his limited playing time, Rakocevic finished with a double-double performance ( 18 points and 13 rebounds ) to make his presence felt. But as if it was not enough, he also grabbed five steals with four blocks to help secure Magnolia’s semifinal appearance for the fourth straight conference.
Magnolia assistant coach Jason Webb said, “They didn’t look undermanned. They gave us a lot of match-up problems because they played big. We weren’t actually ready for that. It took until the fourth quarter before we figured it out.”
Coming off from the bench, Calvin “The Beast” Abueva, who hit back-to-back baskets, led the Hotshots’ closing attack to spark their run from a four-point advantage. He top scored with 19 points, five rebounds, and three steals as Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, and Jio Jalalon also did their share for the assistant coach Jason Webb-mentored Magnolia squad. The latter substituted for head coach Chito Victolero who is observing health protocols.
Barroca chipped in 16 markers and five assists while Lee and Adrian Wong added 15 and 11 points, respectively, to send Phoenix to an early exit in the conference, but not without a stiff contest.
The seventh-seeded Topex Robinson-coached Fuel Masters engaged the Hotshots into a battle behind their import Kaleb Wesson who came up with a near triple-double ( 16 points,12 rebounds, and nine assists ), and their locals who stepped up amid the absence of five other teammates.
Tyler Tio buried three triples for a total of 18 points off the bench for the Fuel Masters but Wesson fell short of a triple-double, chalking up 16 markers, 12 boards, nine assists, and four blocks in the loss the eliminated Phoenix out of the playoffs.
Rookie Encho Serrano accounted for 16 markers while Javee Mocon churned in 12 points, eight rebounds, and two steals for the Fuel Masters.
Phoenix, who ended their Commissioner’s Cup bid in the quarterfinal, however, exceeded expectations by reaching the playoffs in their conference without Matthew Wright who is playing in the Japan B. League. They also lost their ace forward Jason Perkins midway through the tournament but still managed to win six matches, including five straight, to advance to the knockout round.
Magnolia 102 – Abueva 19, Rakocevic 18, Barroca 16, Lee 15, Wong 11, Jalalon 8, Sangalang 6, Dionisio 4, Dela Rosa 3, Corpuz 2, Ahanmisi 0.
Phoenix Super LPG 95 – Tio 18, Serrano 16, Wesson 16, Perkins 12, Mocon 12, Anthony 6, Manganti 5, Rios 4, Pascual 4, Lojera 2, Adamos 0.