by Jonas Terrado
Talk about backing a big brawler into a corner.
The Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok are not only up 2-1 in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals but are also making the defending champion San Miguel Beermen play the role of a counterpuncher.
Magnolia has set the tone after three games of the best-of-seven series behind a collective effort on the defensive end, leaving San Miguel groping for form.
Sunday’s 86-82 victory at the Smart Araneta Coliseum saw the Hotshots cutting down Beermen center June Mar Fajardo, who shot 4-of-11 from the field despite 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Veteran Rafi Reavis, Ian Sangalang and rarely-used Kyle Pascual were mainly responsible for making life miserable for Fajardo, who had made 67 percent of his attempts in the first two games.
Coach Chito Victolero’s team also forced San Miguel to shoot almost 33 percent from the field, a disappointing number for a team that thrives on offense in this stage of the conference.
Leading scorer Arwind Santos finished with 19 points but was 8-of-22 from the field and Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter were a combined 4-of-19.
Terrence Romeo played with better composure after a Game 2 ejection for lashing out at a referee but was 5-of-13 and Alex Cabagnot shot 4-of-13.
“Ang importante lang is hindi kami mawala sa strength at identity namin which is yung defense (It is important that we don’t veer away from our strength and identity which is to play defense),” Victolero said.
“We’re the No. 1 defensive team in the league and kailangan namin maging consistent. Sa offense, everybody can score but focus pa rin kami sa depensa (We need more consistency and focus on defense),” he added.
Despite forcing the Beermen to be reactive rather than dictate the pace, Hotshots guard Mark Barroca cautioned that there’s no reason for them to have a false sense of security when they gun for a 3-1 lead on Wednesday.
“Kami dapat next game, hangga’t di pa tumutunog ang buzzer dapat yung depensa namin nandun (Until the final buzzer comes, there should be no letup in our defense),” Barroca said.