Can they make it 2 in a row?

Paul Lee
Paul Lee of Magnolia drives past two San Miguel defenders in the second quarter of Game 1 on Wednesday night. The Hotshots won the opener of their best-of-seven series.

Hotshots seek repeat win vs Beermen.

IT’s now clear: the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup championship duel is a battle between defense and offense.

Interestingly, defense proved it can carry a team to victory, something that Magnolia found out two nights ago.

“That’s the key against the offensive-minded (San Miguel) Beermen,” said Hotshots coach Chito Victolero.

On Wednesday, the Hotshots found a way to beat the highly-touted Beermen, thanks to the no-nonsense defense they unrelentingly used to take the opener of their best-of-7 title duel, 99-94.

There’s no doubt the Beermen are the overwhelming favorites in their sixth meeting with the Hotshots for the prestigious conference where both of them happen to be the teams with the greatest number of wins.

The Beermen had won the All-Filipino Conference eight times already, while the Hotshots had won it six times.

But the Hotshots proved they can compete against a star-studded SMB side –and win, too — using defense as their main weapon.

“I talked to the players at halftime, reminding them we can’t beat San Miguel on offense,” said Victolero.

Victolero noted the remarkably measly 55 points the Beermen scored in the first half, and he was not even impressed with the defense his Hotshots displayed in the early goings.

“Although we’re able to score, too, we weren’t able to assert our identity, which is defense. I’m very happy they responded to the challenge, played good defense in the second half and limited them to under 100 points,” added Victolero.

The strategy of focusing on defense to beat San Miguel is not new. Phoenix was able to beat San Miguel in the elimination, and managed to stop the Beermen in Game 3 during their semifinal series.

The Hotshots did the same thing in Game 1: play good defense, but are they ready for the big adjustment the Beermen are expected to make in the 7 p.m. Game 2 at the Big Dome?

The Beermen remain the fancied favorites in the series despite the Game 1 debacle. They even shrugged off that loss.

“Okay lang yun. Good thing na best-of-seven ito. Marami pa kaming time na mag-adjust then bounce back lang next game,” said June Mar Fajardo, whose yeoman job highlighted by 35 points and 21 rebounds went down the drain.

“Sayang, natalo kami. Pero kailangan lang talaga mag-bounce back. Kailangan namin maging positive,” said Fajardo, who is likely to clinch the Best Player of the Conference award again.

The Beermen actually had a pair of chances in the stretch but their shots simply didn’t hit their targets.

“Paano kung naka-shoot lang kami ng dalawang three-point shots?” said Fajardo, who was referring to a potential game-tying three-point shot by Marcio Lassiter in the closing seconds.

Had Lassiter made it, the shot could have also changed the complexion of the game.

That’s why the Hotshots are not exactly relishing their Game 1 victory, knowing full well the multi-titled Beermen are not playing in the finals for nothing.

“Kailangan namin magpatuloy mag-trabaho and we have to trust each other and continue to believe,” said Sangalang.

“If you look at the stats, you’ll see our shooting percentage, our shot selection was not good. I have to give credit to our opponent, it was their defense that made this possible,” said SMB coach Leo Austria.

“Fortunately, it’s only Game One and it was not a knockout series,” added Austria, who is looking to steer the Beermen to a record fifth straight title in the All-Filipino Conference.