Meralco Bolts, Magnolia Hotshots engage in a semis decider today

To determine the challengers to Gin Kings in Finals

By Olmin Leyba

FOURTH installment of the Barangay Ginebra-Meralco Philippine Basketball Association  (PBA) Governors’ Cup championship rivalry or first “Manila Clasico” Last Dance in 25 years?

Carrying a ton of motivation, semifinal protagonists Meralco and Magnolia engage in a kill-or-be-killed duel tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to determine who will challenge the Gin Kings for the Season 46 diadem.

“We’re ready, physically and mentally, for Game 5,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero declared ahead of the 6 p.m. semis rubbermatch.

While the Gin Kings took the first finals seat with a 112-93 clincher of NLEX last Wednesday, the Hotshots threw a wrench into the Bolts’ semifinal closeout plans with a massive 94-73 romp that sent their dispute down to a decider.

“We only tied the series, wala pa kaming na-achieve dito (We achieve nothing yet). So we’re looking forward to the do-or-die this Friday,” said Mr. Victolero.

“They played with a lot more energy than us,” noted Meralco mentor Norman Black as he pointed to Magnolia’s 15-10 edge in offensive rebounds and 57-40 gap overall as perfect illustration of this.

“They dominated the rebounds, they really got a lot of offensive rebounds off of us and that showed the fact they were very aggressive. We’ve been doing a really good job of rebounding in this conference but in Game 4, we got dominated on the boards and that’s something we have to fix before Friday.”

A mouthwatering best-of-seven duel with the crowd darlings serve as extra fuel for the two in the highly-charged KO.

For Meralco, it gets another shot at a breakthrough PBA title, not to mention an opportunity at avenging their previous Governors’ Cup finals losses to Ginebra in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

For Magnolia, it earns a chance to vie for a first crown since its 2018 Governors’ Cup conquest, atone for its bungled attempt in the last Philippine Cup finale, and set up a long-awaited “Clasico” championship confrontation. Last time the Magnolia-Purefoods franchise battled Ginebra for top honors was in the 1997 All-Filipino Cup, where the Alvin Patrimonio-led Hotdogs defeated Robert Jaworski and the Gins in six games.

“We expect a very physical game and that’s why we need to have that proper mindset, that mental toughness on both ends,” said Mr. Victolero.

Magnolia’s Mike Harris and Meralco’s Tony Bishop banner their respective teams’ bid with Hotshots locals such as Paul Lee, Calvin Abueva and Jio Jalalon and Bolts counterparts like Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge and Allein Maliksi out to provide support.

Mr. Black is concerned with the status of Chris Banchero, who went down with back spasm and chest issues last Wednesday. He is hoping the Italian playmaker will recover in time for Game 5.  Mr. Victolero’s team isn’t spared of injuries as Mr. Lee re-sprained his ankle in Game 4, though he managed to finish that match.