The Magnolia Hotshots scored their first win of the 2018 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, defeating the NLEX Road Warriors 99-84 in Game 2 Monday.
Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said his players were especially motivated after learning teammate Marc Pingris would be out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The veteran forward is expected to undergo surgery and will miss the series and possibly the remainder of the season. In Game 2, the Hotshots honored Pingris with tape on their jerseys with "#15" printed on it.
"The inspiration [Pingris] gives us is huge for the team," Victolero told reporters after the win.
Despite playing undermanned, the Hotshots were able to limit the Road Warriors to just 41-percent shooting and used a 13-4 run early in the fourth quarter to avoid a 0-2 hole and even the best-of-seven series at one apiece. The 36-year-old Pingris is averaging seven points and eight rebounds this conference. Beyond the stats, Magnolia will miss his leadership. But Pingris remains in communication with the team, giving them confidence that they can overcome NLEX.
One of the players who benefited from Pingris' motivation was Paul Lee, who had a spectacular bounce-back game with 27 points after producing only eight in the series opener.
Lee set the tone early for Magnolia and was obviously looking for his shot more after a subpar performance in Game 1.
"Paul was in attack mode," said Victolero. "From the start of the game he already wanted to win. I hope he sustains his attacking throughout the series."
Pingris' injury might hurt the Hotshots' chances of advancing, but if Lee can consistently wreak havoc on the offensive end then maybe there's a huge possibility. The star guard said he would do everything he can to keep the momentum on their side and hopefully reach the finals. He said it's the least they could do for Pingris.
"[Marc] told us to win the series for him," Lee said. "He reminded us that we can't change what has already happened so we have to make it memorable."
Jio Jalalon and Ian Sangalang stepped up as well. Sangalang contributed 18 points and eight boards, while shooting 66 percent from the field.
"[Pingris] always messages us, and tells us that we can [win this series]," said Jalalon, who scattered nine points, six rebounds and 10 assists in the win. "His words are very encouraging."
Apart from Lee's offensive explosion, Sangalang's interior presence and Jalalon's all-around efforts, the Hotshots were able to focus on certain areas that allowed them to get the win. Magnolia outworked the Road Warriors in the paint, despite the loss of their main frontline piece in Pingris. They scored 34 points in the shaded area and won the rebounding battle by 13 boards.
"We need to be strong because Ping is out and Justin [Melton] is day-to-day. Coach Chito reminded us before the game to find strength in one another," said Lee.
In Game 2 they did just that.