Defensive DNA returns as Magnolia Hotshots level PBA Philippine Cup semifinal with victory over TNT Tropang Giga

Magnolia Hotshots claimed a 92-88 win over TNT Tropang Giga on Friday to pull level at 1-1 in the 2022 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals. PBA Media Bureau

Magnolia Hotshots rediscovered their identity with a thrilling 92-88 Game 2 victory over defending champions TNT Tropang Giga, to knot up their 2022 PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series at one game apiece.

The Hotshots nearly squandered a 77-58 lead after the Tropang Giga came to within two at 90-88 on a triple by Kelly Williams with three seconds left, but Mark Barroca and Calvin Abueva iced the game with a free throw each.

Ahead of Game 3 on Sunday, here are three things we learned from Friday's thriller.

The defense returns for Magnolia

After giving up 108 points in Game 1, the Hotshots found their trademark defense against the No. 2 scoring team in the league.

TNT put up just 12 points in the first quarter and 17 in the second as they fell behind 29-39 at the halftime break. The defensive turnaround was something Chito Victolero was confident would happen.

"We needed to go back to our defensive mindset, our defensive mentality," said the winning coach. "The reason we reached this far (in the tournament) is because of that.

"We're limiting our opponents to under 84 points, but last time they scored 108 points. But now we did a good job, especially in the first half. We got our rhythm on defense. Good result."

TNT coughed up the ball 22 times compared to just 15 in Game 1, while the Tropang Giga's shooting clip dropped from 48% to 44%. Glenn Khobuntin, who had 18 points in Game 1, was held scoreless, while RR Pogoy could only come up with 11 points, way below the 23 he dropped on Wednesday.

"That's what we wanted to do. Put the pressure back on them, make them feel some pressure," said Ian Sangalang, who had 20 points for the Hotshots.

"We just want to enjoy every game. We knew what to do, we believed in the game plan, we believed in ourselves that we would win."

Weathering the storm

While the entire metropolis was drenched in monsoon rains for most of Friday, on the court the Hotshots had to weather a storm of their own after their big lead almost evaporated in the face of a late TNT rally.

The Tropang Giga almost pulled off a miraculous comeback after RR Pogoy stole the inbounds pass right under their basket, but he stepped on the baseline for a turnover. Before that, Sangalang and Mark Barroca kept the Hotshots afloat with timely hits.

"I think I hadn't made a basket yet in the fourth quarter, and that was my only basket," Sangalang said of his shot in the paint that gave Magnolia a 90-84 lead with 1:29 left.

"I thought to myself that I need to level up and make one or two shots to help the team. It wasn't just me. Mark and Calvin also took over."

Barroca, meanwhile, banked in a runner late that also gave the Hotshots some breathing room. He finished with a team-high 22 points.

"I saw that Mark had some rhythm," Victolero said. "We just tried to give him some confidence. That's our style, we go to whoever has the hot hand. The players know this, too. Whoever is hot, they will support.

"We expected the comeback. I just told them to try to weather the storm. We needed to make one defensive stop and on the other side we needed to execute our offense.

"What was good was that we were able to answer back. Ian hit a shot, Mark hit a couple. Our mental toughness was there."

Mikey Williams breaks loose

Part of Magnolia's game plan was to limit the offense of Mikey Williams, the league's leading scorer.

For one half, they did an excellent job of doing just that, holding the prolific guard to 1-of-8 shooting and a measly three points.

Williams eventually got going in the second half with 25 points, including 14 in the fourth that fueled TNT's run.

Victolero knew it was close to impossible to limit such a talented player for a whole game, adding: "We really can't stop Mikey. Our goal was to limit him and his contributions to TNT. Once he gets hot, he can't stop. That's his mentality.

"I'd like to give credit to Rome (Dela Rosa) and Adrian (Wong). They did a good job defending Williams, but we have to be consistent. There were spans in the game where his points were non-stop."

Overall, though, Victolero was pleased with his troops, as he praised: "It's a total team effort, the defense. I'm very proud of my players.

"We want to face this strong team, this elite team, as a team also because we can't beat them individually.

"We expect a lot, but also we're very confident about our defense and our execution on offense."