Nicholas Rakocevic announced his arrival to the PBA in a sensational fashion, exploding for 45 points and 25 rebounds to tow Magnolia past a gritty Terrafirma side, 100-92, in the 2022 Commissioner’s Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday, Sept. 28.
Rakocevic seemed to be tailor-fit for the Hotshots as he scored in a variety of ways from the perimeter, from the post, off the rebound and ball screens, complementing the games of the guard-oriented lineup of Magnolia to open the mid-season conference on a high note.
The Serbian-American import even conspired with Paul Lee and Mark Barroca to anchor a deciding 9-0 run inside the final two minutes of the contest and slam the door on the upset bid of the Dyip who managed to keep in step with the efforts of Lester Prosper and Juami Tiongson.
“Kita naman natin he plays on both ends of the floor, he contributes on our defensive schemes, very aggressive. “Yung activity level niya yun yung gusto namin sa kanya,” said Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero.
“We just try to siguro yung locals, the contribution of the locals and we have to improve our defense. There’s room for improvement but Nic did a good job on both ends of the floor. We expect nic to help us especially execution namin down the stretch naging maganda naman,” he added.
Jio Jalalon provided support with 12 points, six rebounds and seven assists while Ian Sangalang added 10. Barocca had eight points and eight assists while Lee contributed nine points including the huge triple that beat the shot clock as Magnolia reclaimed the lead, 94-92 with 2:34 left.
Barroca then took charge in the waning minutes, first scoring on a floater before issuing an alley-oop pass to Rakocevic for a 98-92 advantage.
The Hotshots then leaned on its patented pressure defense that forced a turnover which led to a Rakocevic two-handed jam to put the exclamation point to his rousing PBA debut.
Magnolia looked poised to break the game wide open after establishing a 75-60 lead after a blistering 16-6 run to open the second half but Tiongson who finished with 19 points, scored six straight points to keep Terrafirma within striking distance, 80-71 heading into the final frame.
He then joined hands with Prosper who posted another monster outing of 45 points and 19 rebounds in a furious 17-6 fourth quarter rally to put the Dyip on the driver seat, 88-86. The efforts, however, went futile as Terrafirma simply had no answer to Magnolia’s killer blows.