By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

HAPPY that they got to level their PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinal series at one game apiece, the Magnolia Hotshots are not about to rest on that thought, knowing that the NLEX Road Warriors could only be expected to come back more determined when Game Three gets rolling today.

Showing collective effort to stay on top of things throughout the match, notwithstanding the absence of key pieces to injuries, the Hotshots made sure not to fall for a second straight time in the series, winning, 99-84, in Game Two on Monday night to set up a whole new battle in the now-reduced semifinal affair, beginning in Game Three today at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Paul Lee towed his team to the victory, top-scoring for the Hotshots with 27 points, bouncing back from a so-so and foul-plagued game previously where he finished with just eight points.

Ian Sangalang finished with 18 points and eight rebounds while Mark Barroca added 11 points.

Rome Dela Rosa and Aldrech Ramos had 10 each for Magnolia, which played in Game Two sans Marc Pingris, out for the season after tearing his ACL in the series opener last Saturday, and Justin Melton (hamstring).

While they basked in the good performance they had last time around, the Hotshots recognize that they have not accomplished anything yet and that work is still cut out for them the rest of the way against an NLEX crew who is out to make major waves and prove itself in the season-opening Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) tournament.

“Credit to the players for coming out with a team effort on both ends of the court. But we just tied the series. Hopefully we could sustain our performance tonight in our next games,” said winning coach Chito Victolero following their Game Two win.

He went on to say that since they remained undermanned for the series, the entire team really has to step up and fill up the void left by their injured teammates.

“One of my best post defenders (Pingris) and one of my best perimeter players (Melton) are not with us, leaving us undermanned and even the underdog in the series. Everybody must pick up the slack as we continue to battle NLEX,” said Mr. Victolero.

Leading NLEX last time around were Alex Mallari and JR Quiñahan, who each had 13 points.

Rookie sensation Kiefer Ravena finished with nine points and seven assists but did not have the kind of impact on the match he had in Game One, no thanks to the concerted effort of the Hotshots to limit him and NLEX backcourt mate Kevin Alas.

Winner of the Magnolia-NLEX series moves on to battle the victor in the other semifinal series between defending champions San Miguel Beermen and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings. San Miguel was holding a 2-0 series lead over Barangay Ginebra entering Game Three last night.