Photo by the PBA Media Bureau
The Hotshots accomplish one mission and will now try to regain supremacy which was once theirs
4 years of disappointment. 4 years of no Finals appearance. 4 years worth of unaccomplished goals.
All of those were things of the past for Mark Barroca and the rest of the Magnolia Hotshots as they finally clinched their first Finals berth since 2014. And the journey towards the Philippine Cup Finals wasn't as easy as everyone thought for the Hotshots as they were squared off against a young NLEX Road Warriors who earned their first semifinal appearance as a franchise. In fact, things didn't start well for Magnolia as they lost Marc Pingris to a season-ending ACL injury. Then, things went chippy in the rest of the series as both NLEX and Magnolia exchanged win for win until Game 5 when the Hotshots took control of the series and they were able to wrap things up in last night's Game 6.
Sure, it also helped Magnolia that NLEX played the final two games of their series without Kevin Alas who was hurt just 39 seconds into Game 5 but there's no denying the fact that this Magnolia squad worked hard for them to get themselves back in the Finals with a big task ahead of them: dethroning a San Miguel Beermen squad who is gunning for their 4th consecutive All-Filipino championship.
Do the Hotshots have a chance against the Beermen?
To begin with, this is the first time in 5 years that both teams will battle it out for the championship. The last time it happened? It was at the finals of the 2013 Governors' Cup when the Hotshots, then known as the San Mig Super Coffee Mixrs that was coached by Tim Cone, beat the Beermen, then known as the Petron Blaze Boosters, in 7 games. And both squads have faced each other in the Finals in multiple occassions so frankly, these two franchises share a long history in the Finals.
Going back to the question at hand, beating San Miguel in one game and beating them in a 7-game series are two different things. Now, given the fact that Marc Pingris is out of the picture, Ian Sangalang and Rafi Reavis will need to double their efforts in defending June Mar Fajardo especially in the shaded area. While June Mar Fajardo cannot be contained for a long period of time as no team has been able to do so in the Philippine Cup, Chito Victolero has one more thing to worry about: the slashers and shooters of San Miguel. Guys like Arwind Santos, Alex Canagnot, Marcio Lasiter, Chris Ross, Von Pesssumal and even Brian Heruela can cause headache to the coaching staff of Magnolia owing to their ability to catch a pass from a double-teamed June Mar Fajardo and either attach the basket or hit those threes- something we've seen many times in the Beermen's 5-game win against the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings.
Prediction: San Miguel in 6 games.
Then again, he Hotshots have been long seasoned for another championship and they were only hampered by injuries to key player and this conference is no exemption to that. Aside from Marc Pingris, Paul Lee, Jio Jalalon and Rafi Reavis have missed multiple games this conference but they came back and helped Maagnolia back in the Finals. And, San Miguel isn't in full strength either as Chris Ross is also nursing an injury so it's a well-matched championship series that can definitely go to a Game 7.