The Magnolia-Rain or Shine matchup Friday night was reminiscent of a recent Game 7 slugfest also between these two teams due to its low-scoring, highly-defensive nature. There would be no overtimes or comebacks, though, as Magnolia shut the door on a Rain or Shine side that had a historically bad start to carve out a 69-68 win in the PBA Governors' Cup.
"I told them at dugout after the first half that this is like Game 7 of our Philippine Cup semifinals," coach Chito Victolero said. "I told them it's a test of our character, being mentally tough in the end. I think we need these kind of games."
A free throw by Mark Barroca in the final 58 seconds proved to be the decider for the Hotshots, who endured four scoreless minutes and waited for a Gabe Norwood game-winner attempt to veer right to run away with the victory.
Romeo Travis scored 26 points to be the lone double-digit scorer for the Hotshots, who climbed to 2-1 in the standings. He also grabbed 14 rebounds and added two steals and two blocks.
"It's a character game for us. I told them this is a defensive game," Victolero said. "Credit also to Rain or Shine, they really played well on that end, too. It just went to the breaks of the game at the end and thank God they went our way."
Both teams struggled mightily to find iron in the opening frame, but the Elasto Painters bore the brunt of an unforgiving defensive showdown as it became the first in league history to miss all of its field goal attempts in one quarter when it went 0-for-16 to end with just six points from the free throw line in the first 12 minutes.
Even after that, Magnolia still wasn't able to pull away as it shot just 30 percent (14-for-46) from the field in the first half to hold an unsteady 32-25 lead. The floor beneath that cushion appeared to collapse in the second half, where Rain or Shine used a 10-0 blitz to win the third quarter 27-15 and enter the final frame with a 52-47 advantage.
A 14-2 burst by Magnolia, topped by a Justin Melton floater, would be the Magnolia's opening answer in the payoff period, but it would only manage seven more points the rest of the way before surviving the Elasto Painters at the final buzzer.
"That's our strength. Defensively, we're back. That's our problem last conference. But we've been consistent there for the last two seasons. I'm very happy that we're bringing back that defensive mentality. It's really beautiful to watch," Victolero said.
Barroca and Ian Sangalang added eight points apiece for the Hotshots, who shot 32.6 percent from the field and 3-for-21 on threes. Magnolia next faces the Alaska Aces, who are scraping the bottom of the barrel with a 0-4 card.
Javee Mocon paced Rain or Shine (31.6 percent against Magnolia) with 14 points, while import Kayel Locke struggled in his debut, finishing with just 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists.
Locke battled early foul trouble.
"I think our import was thrown off the way he wanted to play today. Basically he got four fouls right away (in the first half) and I believe two of those are bad calls. Two and-1 opportunities were flagged as offensive fouls. So he lost his rhythm from the beginning. He didn't know what to do," coach Caloy Garcia.
After managing his fouls better in the second half to avoid fouling out, Locke says he's slowly learning more about "how the referees call certain things."
"There are certain things that they let be physical, and other things you kinda have to make sure you don't use two hands or anything like that," Locke said. "I just got here four, five days ago so I'm still trying to get everything under my belt but once that happens, things will look good moving forward."
Locke was brought in by Rain or Shine to replace Joel Wright, who also struggled with fouling in his three-game stint. Garcia thinks Locke is a better passer and a capable shooter despite committing six turnovers and missing all his five shots from long range against Magnolia.
"I think this guy can create more Joel. But when it comes to strength, Joel has the edge. [I've] yet to see the full potential of Kayel. The nice thing about Kayel is he can try to at least create for the locals," Garcia said. "I think Kayel has much more to show. In practice, He has been hitting those 3-point shoots. They just weren't going in tonight."
He'll have to pick it up quickly, though, as Locke will go up against a titan of an import in Phoenix's Eugene Phelps (33.7 points on 57 percent shooting, 16.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.0 block per game) next week.
"Eugene is a way much stronger import. But all of them have different strengths and weaknesses," said Garcia. "The only thing right now (we're pleased with) is he knows how the game is being played here and he has to adjust to every calls made."
Meanwhile, James Yap will be reevaluated by Rain or Shine tomorrow after a suffering an apparent groin injury in the second quarter.
Magnolia (69) -- Travis 26, Sangalang 8, Barroca 8, Lee 7, Reavis 6, Dela Rosa 5, Jalalon 4, Melton 3, Pingris 2, Herndon 0, Brondial 0.
Rain or Shine (68) -- Mocon 14, Locke 13, Belga 9, Borboran 7, Yap 6, Daquioag 5, Exciminano 5, Ponferada 3, Norwood 2, Nambatac 2, Torres 2, Onwubere 0, Rosales 0.
Quarters: 11-6, 32-25, 47-52, 69-68.
Magnolia's Rafi Reavis, currently in his 17th season, became the first among all active players to play 750 games in the PBA. He is also the 15th player in league history to reach that mark.
The previous worst mark on field goals in any quarter was a 1-for-21 (4.8 percent) showing by the Mobiline Phone Pals against the Sta. Lucia Realtors in 2001. There were also 10 other instances that a team made just a single field goal in a quarter.
Magnolia vs. Alaska on Oct. 6 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum
Rain or Shine vs. Phoenix on Oct. 9 at the Cuneta Astrodome