CHRISTMAS came a week early this year for Magnolia, and coach Chito Victolero could not seem to describe the feeling like no other.
“Sobrang saya ko, para ako nakalutang sa hangin,” said Victolero yesterday, a day after his Hotshots clinched the PBA Governors’ Cup title via convincing 102-86 spanking of the Alaska Aces in Game 6 of the best-of-7 series.
“Di mo maipaliwanag ang nararamdaman ko ito, ibang klase saya to,” added Victolero.
Stoking the fire of their last Friday’s 79-78 Game 5 win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the Hotshots greeted the Aces – as well as the boisterous capacity crowd at the Ynares Center – with 12 unanswered points in what was a virtual declaration of their intention.
The Hotshots then sustained the momentum all the way, using their unrelenting defense that complemented well their excellent offensive.
That evening, not only did the Hotshots reclaim their old glory in the pro league, but also earned the distinction of being the first team to be crowned in that far-away venue in Antipolo.
“Kami yung sinuwerte, and that’s part of the history na kami yung unang team na nag champion sa Ynares. Malaking bagay yon,” said Victolero, who has now joined a long list of champion coaches in the PBA.
There was nothing extra ordinary that could be said to be the key to the title run, except that the Hotshots exemplified excellent bonding among themselves – something they already had since last season.
“I think number one ‘yung team chemistry, ýung team work, they really wanted to win,” said Victolero.
“‘Yung samahan nila maganda, nagsimula ‘yan last season. Although natatalo kami sa semifinals noon last season, natalo kami ngayon sa All Filipino finals sa San Miguel, yung lahat ng natutunan namin dala namin sa series na ‘to,” stressed Victolero.
“May mga mistakes kami noon na na correct namin ngayon, plus the yung defense namin which our bread and butter every game,” added the youthful coach, who took the reins of the Hotshots in October 2017.
The Hotshots nailed their 14th title and tied the Aces in second place behind San Miguel Beer which owns 25 titles – and their first since completing a grand slam in 2014 under coach Tim Cone.
Knowing full well the best-of-7 series was in the wraps already, the Hotshots, starring Mark Barroca, Ian Sangalang, Rafi Reavis and Justin Melton, key recruits Paul Lee, Jio Jalalon, Rome dela Rosa and import Romeo Travis – kept pounding the Aces all over the court.
Barroca eventually became the PBA Press Corps -Honda Finals MVP for his big role.
It was the team’s first title since the Paul Lee-James Yap trade in 2016.
The Hotshots jumped the guns early in the series, taking the first two games, and threatened to sink the Aces to 0-3 hole, but the latter avoided that by taking Game 3, and Game 4 as well.
The Hotshots though fought the Aces tooth and nail in the crucial Game 5 that saw plenty of highlight plays in the closing minutes.
It took a shot – a cool shot at that – from bet player of the conference awardee Lee near the baseline after getting the loose ball for the Hotshots to regain the upperhand in the series at 3-2 via a 79-78 win.
A four-day break then ensued as the league had to hold the annual Draft last Sunday, giving both the Hotshots and the Aces enough time to recover from fatigue.
As it turned out, it was the Hotshots who returned to the game in great form.
In an experience like no other, Victolero got the well-deserved victory ride as multi-colored confetti fell from the rafters of the Antipolo venue.