The Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok are champions once again for the first time in four years. The hunger to win a championship after a long title drought was evident on Wednesday evening at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
Closing out a Finals series isn’t an easy task, but Magnolia made it look routine with their 102-86 masterclass over the Alaska Aces. It wasn’t meant to be a walk in the park, but the 12-0 start from the eventual champions set the tone for the entire game. It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Hotshots, who buried Alaska early on and kept them there.
Magnolia looked like a veteran team used to winning championships in the penultimate game, which is a surprise when you consider some of the team’s veterans admitted they don’t remember how it felt to play in a closeout game for a championship. To be fair, the last time they did it was in 2014 against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
“Rookie year ko pa yon,” Ian Sangalang said thoughtfully before Game 6.
Sangalang couldn’t remember the details, while Mark Barroca was able to diagram the final play of that series on the court during warmups. Barroca pointed out that the player who missed the potential game-tying trey for Rain or Shine was now-teammate Paul Lee.
But when asked if he remembered how it felt to play in a closeout game, Barroca conceded ,’Ang tagal na nun.’
The Hotshots came into Game 6 brimming with confidence, after taking Alaska’s best punch in Game 5 and still coming away with the win. The second half of Game 5 saw Alaska hold Magnolia down to just 20 percent shooting from the field, and yet the Hotshots survived to earn the series edge. That Game 5 victory buoyed Magnolia’s self belief so much, some of them felt that there was no way they were losing on Wednesday night.
“Pakiramdam ko talaga kanina na mananalo kami,” Sangalang said after the game. “We treated (Game 6) as a normal game, not a championship. We enjoyed the game.“
“Last game na nanalo kami, ‘yan yung pinaka mabigat … Feeling namin na na-down sila sa last game.”
Call it arrogance, but the Hotshots backed it up with their performance on the hard court. The key was their scintillating start.
“Alaska is the type of team that if you start off hot and you stay on top of them, they have trouble scoring,” Magnolia import Romeo Travis said. “They score in bunches. If you get on top of them early, I don’t think they have the scoring power to come back from a lead like that.”
For head coach Chito Victolero, this championship was a culmination of all of the heartbreaks that Magnolia has experienced in the past two seasons. That run included three straight semifinal defeats and a loss to the San Miguel Beermen in the Finals of the Philippine Cup.
“Hindi lang naman dito yan nag start, nag start pa yan last season,” Victolero said. “Ako naman I’m very patient dun sa pinagdaanan namin kasi hindi naman overnight nakukuha mo ‘yung championship.”
“Lahat na nangyari sa amin last season, this season, all boils down to this game.”
The Magnolia Hotshots are on cloud nine as of the moment, savoring the spotlight after a four year absence atop the podium.
When asked about the plans to continue their success, Victolero said that he wants to bask in the moment for awhile longer, but hopes this is the start a fruitful period for the franchise.
“Hopefully, this is the start of the magandang pangyayari para sa future namin.”