TWO equally determined teams, one coveted slot against the perennial champs of the PBA Governors' Cup remaining.
With holder Barangay Ginebra already sitting comfortably in the best-of-seven finals, their prospective challengers Magnolia Pambansang Manok and Meralco Bolts kill each other off in Friday night's semifinal do-or-die Game 5 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
For the Bolts, a fourth crack at the elusive title in the import-flavored conference and a possible payback against their three-time tormentors await if successful in the 6 p.m. rubbermatch.
For the Hotshots, a blockbuster Manila Clasico finale and a chance to return to the top again after their 2018 Governors' Cup triumph is an enticing reward for another 48 minutes of hard work against the Bolts.
"We're ready, physically and mentally, for Game 5," said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, anticipating yet another bruising showdown with the troops of Meralco mentor Norman Black.
"It's a do-or-die so we expect a very physical game. We just have to have the proper mindset and mental toughness on both ends if we want to succeed," he added.
Black felt the Bolts failed to match the Hotshots' intensity when they attempted their first closeout in Game 4.
"They played with a lot more energy than us," said Black, citing Magnolia's 57-40 edge in rebounding last Wednesday, including a 15-10 upperhand in the offensive glass, as prime example.
"The fact that they dominated the rebounds, really got a lot of offensive rebounds off of us, showed they were very aggressive. We've been doing a really good job of rebounding in this conference but in Game 4, we got dominated on the boards and that's something we have to fix before Friday."
One major concern for Black is the health condition of ace guard Chris Banchero. The hero for Meralco in Game 3, Banchero only saw action for nearly 18 minutes and finished with seven points due to back spasm and chess issues.
"I'm hoping that Thursday's break will give him a chance to heal up and be able to come back on Friday," said Black.
Magnolia gunner Paul Lee isn't 100 percent, either. Lee aggravated his old ankle sprain last Wednesday but unlike Banchero, managed to return to action and shoot 17 in Game 4.
"Malaking bagay para sa amin si Paul; sana makarecover siya in time for Friday," said Victolero.
Magnolia, the tournament top seed, dragged the fourth-ranked Bolts to a you-or-me encounter with a gutsy 94-73 romp in Wednesday's Game 4.
"We only tied the series, wala pa kaming na-achieve dito. So we're looking forward to the do-or-die this Friday," said Victolero.
Ginebra, champions of the 2016, 2017 and 2019 editions, made the Last Dance ahead after finishing off NLEX, 112-93, for a 3-1 conquest.
If Meralco wins, it sets up Round 4 versus Ginebra. If Magnolia prevails, it marks the franchise's first championship battle with the crowd darlings since the 1997 All-Filipino where an Alvin Patrimonio-led Purefoods defeated the Robert Jaworski-coached Ginebra, 4-2. (OL) (PBA)
(Photo credits to: PBA)