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Magnolia’s defense did the trick in Game 2

By Eddie Alinea
Sun, 09 Dec 2018

Alaska looked to have recovered from the Aces lethargic Game 1 loss to Magnolia hotshots in the on-going best-of-seven series for the PBA Governors’ Cup.

And the ghost, too, of the Aces and coach Alex Compton’s past four finals appearances that produced nothing but big flag eggs for the Wilfred Uytengsu-owned franchise.

In Game 2 on Friday, Alaska came out firing and moved five minutes shy of tying the gold medal playoff only to run out of steam down the stretch amidst Magnolia’s stonewall-like defensive pressure, losing 71-77 and falling to a 0-2 hole they themselves dug in.

Alaska came out with its typically balanced attack to take control for three quarters and-a-half before the Hotshots tightened the screw late in the payoff period.

Even the Aces’ import Mike Harris, a former NBA player, has struggled to find ways to solve the riddle.

The prolific import, front runner for the best import award, said he was forced to be a facilitator for most of the match. He was limited to single field goal in the fourth period after pouring in 18 points in the first 36 minutes.

Harris had nothing but praise for the Hotshots after Friday's 77-71 Game 2 loss.

"They challenge me a lot more on the court than most teams had done this year. They really forced me to move the ball and focus in passing," Harris said.

Alaska committed turnover after turnover while Jio Jalalon, a part of the Hotshots’ dreaded and confusing three-guard or sometimes four-guard rotation, responded with clutch baskets, including a glass-aided shot from the left wing to give Magnolia a 73-71 edge with 2:40 remaining.

Jalalon's basket turned out to be one of only two field goals in the last 6:32. He would return to the foul line a little over two minutes later to can a pair of free throws before Rafi Reavis soared with an emphatic slam that sealed the game to send the Magnolia bench and the half-filled Araneta Coliseum crowd celebrating.

Only a pair of Aces scored in the decisive fourth quarter with Simo Enciso making Alaska’s last field goal with 6:32 left to play to put Alaska up 69-68. It was the last time Alaska would lead.

The Hotshots’ paralyzing defense forced the Aces to committing 26 turnovers, eight in the fourth.

As to what led to the Aces' back-to-back losses in the title series, Compton pointed out to two factors - turnovers and free throws.

"Getting 25, 26 turnovers. I think that's the prime story of the first two games of the series," Compton rued. "If we turn the ball over 26 times, that's just huge," added the Alaska coach, who nonetheless credited Magnolia for living up to its billing as the league's top defensive team.

Alaska was only given 11 foul shots, converting eight of them. In contrast, Magnolia was awarded 18 freebies and made half of them.

The Alaska mentor felt Magnolia's guards are getting leeways from the game officials. "I've not yet once publicly complained about officiating, but those guys fouled a lot. And they don't get a call for it."

"I'm all for good defense, and I know those guys are great defenders. But a foul is a foul," he said during the post-game press conference.. "If you're karate chopping, pushing somebody, or you're leaving your foot so you'll trip a ball handler, it's a foul. And it's a big part of the game, and for whatever reason, they (referees) didn't want to call it.”

"Credit Magnolia’a defense ... But I think if we could have taken care of the basketball, it would have been a better game," Compton said.

Compton and Harris remained confident, though, they still have time to find the solution to Magnolia's defense.

"All we need to do is win one. It changes the whole thing," Harris said. We can't get down on ourselves. I'm not down on myself. I've been in this before so I like the situation."

Despite the sad scenario, Compton is not about to wave the white flag yet. "If this is a three-game series, it's over. But I don't think this is over yet."

Alaska is in its fifth finals appearance under Compton, although it lost the first four including the 2016 Philippine Cup where the Aces blew a 3-0 lead against San Miguel.

But instead of looking back, the Alaska coach vowed to prepare the Aces better, starting on Sunday's Game 3 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.

"I tell you though, we're gonna keep on going and keep on going. We're gonna battle," said the Alaska coach. "So they (Aces) be ready for tomorrow (Sunday). They better be ready to work.”

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