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Magnolia now at cusp of finals return with semis Game 5 win vs NLEX

Mark Barroca led Magnolia's Game 5 brilliance. PBA Media Bureau
By Dugout Philippines

ANTIPOLO--Magnolia Pambansang Manok is now just another win away from a coveted goal.

With Mark Barroca acting as a spearhead, the Hotshots stumped the NLEX Road Warriors, 87-78, Sunday in what could be a pivotal victory in their PBA Philippine Cup semi-finals duel at the Ynares Center.

Barroca finished with 18 points, his highest output in the series thus far, and got plenty of help from his teammates as Magnolia went up, 3-2, in the best-of-seven series.

Another win in Game 6 Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and the Hotshots would be in their first finals under coach Chito Victolero after coming up just short in each of the three conferences last season.

Victolero does not want his team to get ahead of itself, however. "Wala kaming dapat i-celebrate ngayon, e," he said.

"We need four wins to go to the finals. So just try to maintain, be consistent on our effort, be consistent on our focus and our mental toughness. Me konting advantage, nanalo ngayon, but again di pa tapos series."

One thing that pleases Victolero is his team holding NLEX to just a 33-for-84 field shooting and its lowest output thus far in the series.

"I told my players we need to bring our teeth on defense," related Victolero in partly explaining the Road Warriors' 30-for-80 field shooting, just two days after the latter made 36 of 68 shots in a 91-79 win in Game 4.

"We need to go to our strength, which is our defense. The last two games, kahit nanalo kami nu'ng Game 3, that's not our game," added Victolero. "Iyun 'yung adjustment namin, kailangan naming dumipensa."

In reality, Magnolia's offense was no better than NLEX's at 39 percent. But it surfaced at the most opportune of times, especially in the fourth quarter where the Hotshots unleashed one run after another to break off from a tight game and lead by as much as 84-66.

Barroca, who also wound up with seven boards and two assists, may have led the attack, but he got plenty of help.

Despite not scoring in the first half, Aldrech Ramos still emerged with his best game of the duel with 15 points and nine rebounds, Paul Lee also had 15 points to go with four assists and Ian Sangalang turned in 14 points and 11 boards.

For the second straight game, Kiefer Ravena led all scorers with 21 points with 10 coming in the fourth period which NLEX entered down by just one.

Alex Mallari and Raul Soyud finished with at least 11 points each, but the Road Warriors bogged down in the stretch that mattered most, making just six of their 22 shots in the final frame.

Kevin Alas, averaging 9.75 points, 6.25 rebounds, 3.5 assists and numerous creations for NLEX, could have helped, but he suffered a right knee injury just 40 seconds into the game.

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