Staring at a 1-4 record a few weeks back, Magnolia Hotshots head coach Chito Victolero did not even know if the team would stay longer inside the PBA bubble, so he implored his team to go into "playoff mode" as November came by.
The team's 95-80 victory against the Blackwater Elite on Wednesday evening erased all doubts they may have had, as they troop on to the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals.
Whether they be seventh or eighth in the standings, Victolero is just thankful the team was able to remain for the postseason.
"We're still blessed. The four teams are already gone. And only eight remain. Either way, if you're 1 or 8, what's important is you still have a chance," said Victolero in the post-game press conference.
The team, which had fallen short in the last two All-Filipino championship series against San Miguel, will have a much more difficult time going back, since they are slated to face either top seed Barangay Ginebra San Miguel or two-seed Phoenix Super LPG.
"We experienced [going to the next level] before, a few years ago, a season ago where we clawed from the sixth or seventh seed, but we grinded it out. Those are my players. Wherever we go, I'm very proud of my players for what they achieved here in the bubble," added Victolero.
Taking to heart their coach's directive of respect to the game and their opponents, they immediately zoomed to a 10-5 lead after a jumper by Jackson Corpuz.
After establishing an 11-point lead, 23-11, at the 2:01 mark of the opening quarter, Magnolia ventured on a 9-2 run to end the period and was ahead, 32-14. Ian Sangalang scored all of his 10 first-half points in the quarter as well.
In the second, the Elite managed to trim the gap to single digits, 41-32, after a three-pointer by KG Canaleta. However, the Hotshots responded and managed to keep the spread at double digits for the duration of the game.
Magnolia's lead ballooned to as many as 21, 90-69, in the late stages of the fourth, sealing their sixth straight win to close the eliminations.
Sangalang paced Magnolia's offense with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Banchero added 14 markers and 5 boards.
Rookie Aris Dionisio connected on three shots from rainbow country en route to a 12-point night.
Blackwater, which showed promise early in the season following a 2-1 start, could not get it together for the remainder of the season. Their loss was their eighth straight, ending their dismal run with a 2-9 record.
Canaleta scored a team-high 14 markers, while former Gilas guard Don Trollano augmented the score sheet with his 13-point output.
Magnolia (95) -- Sangalang 17, Banchero 14, Dionisio 12, Barroca 11, Lee 10, dela Rosa 9, Jalalon 8, Melton 3, Abundo 3, Corpuz 2, Reavis 2, Calisaan 2, Saitanan 2, Pingris 0, Pascual 0.
Blackwater (80) -- Canaleta 14, Trollano 13, Sumang 9, Dario 8, Belo 8, Gabriel 8, Dennison 6, Tolomia 4, Escoto 4, Magat 3, Salem 3, Daquioag 0, Golla 0, Desiderio 0, Shaw 0.
Quarter Scores: 32-14, 48-36, 73-56, 95-80.
- The NorthPort Batang Pier are reportedly leaving the bubble on Thursday night.
- Second overall pick Maurice Shaw did not play as he continued to battle back spasms.