Magnolia leaned on a big third quarter and remained composed in the fourth to down Rain or Shine, 81-70, and draw first blood in their best-of-three 2021 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals matchup on Sunday at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Ian Sangalang came up big with 19 points on 9-for-19 shooting along with 13 rebounds, while Paul Lee overcame another cold shooting night to still finish with 20 points on 6-for-22 shots to go with four rebounds and three assists for the third-seeded Hotshots, who are one win away from the semifinals.
Jio Jalalon also threw in 10 points off the bench, while Calvin Abueva collected eight markers, 13 boards, two blocks, an assist, and a steal in the series opener.
"Winning Game 1 was very important. In any series, that's what's going to get you the momentum," remarked head coach Chito Victolero in the post-game presser. "We worked on our execution on both ends of the floor and we kept on grinding. We were down in the first half, but we kept on executing and we got the W."
Magnolia turned a five-point halftime deficit into a 60-50 lead entering the fourth quarter after a tremendous showing in the third, where Sangalang scored eight of his team's 23 points in a 12-minute stretch that also saw Rain or Shine manage just eight points while missing 14 of its 16 shots.
Santi Santillan kept the Elasto Painters within striking distance by scoring 13 of their 20 fourth quarter points, but the Hotshots had enough in the tank to put away their foes and go up 1-0 in the series, with Lee - who only scored one point on 0-for-6 shooting in the first half - putting the finishing touches with a triple and a pair of free throws to make it a nine-point game, 79-70, with over 40 seconds left.
Magnolia handily dominated the glass, where the team grabbed 66 against Rain or Shine's 43. The Hotshots collected a lot of their misses (23-8 advantage in offensive rebounding) and put up 21 second chance points, as a result.
"Since Day 1, that's been our mantra: we want to outwork our opponents," noted Victolero, as they also made a living inside the paint where they scored more than half of their output with 44. "In terms of talent, we're not that deep, but in terms of chemistry and working hard, I think we're no. 1 in that regard."
The Hotshots have not advanced to the second round of the playoffs since reaching the finals of the 2019 All-Filipino conference, but a win next week could change that.
Closing out the Elasto Painters will also help Magnolia bury the memory of losing in the first round in the 2020 "bubble," when a late Matthew Wright game-winner propelled the second-seeded Phoenix Fuel Masters past a Hotshots team that rode a six-game winning streak to reach the quarterfinals before eventually falling short.
"We're very motivated," commented Victolero. "But we'll take Game 2 possession-by-possession and we won't think of the result. That'll come in the end. As long as we execute our game plan, everything will fall into place." Rising rookie Santillan led Rain or Shine with a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double. Rey Nambatac also breached double-digits by putting up 13 of his 16 in the first half, while Javee Mocon finished with 11 and five boards.
As a whole, though, the Elasto Painters shot just 34.2 percent from the field in the loss, even as they hit 12-of-35 3s.
Magnolia 81 - Lee 20, Sangalang 19, Jalalon 10, Dela Rosa 10, Barroca 8, Abueva 8, Corpuz 4, Pascual 2, Reavis 0, Ahanmisi 0, Dionisio 0.
Rain or Shine 70 - Santillan 17, Nambatac 16, Mocon 11, Belga 8, Borboran 5, Norwood 3, Caracut 3, Ponferada 3, Yap 2, Torres 2, Wong 0, Asistio 0.
Quarters: 21-16, 37-42, 60-50, 81-70.
- Per PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III, the Magnolia franchise has not lost a best-of-three series after winning Game 1 since 2003.
- Magnolia also drew 24 points from its bench in the win.