SMART CLARK GIGA CITY — Phoenix Super LPG was aware it would be in for a grind-out affair with Magnolia in their 2020 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinal encounter on Saturday night, given the latter’s pedigree.
Sure, the Hotshots are coming in as the seventh seed and with the twice-to-win disadvantage. Still, there’s no denying that Magnolia remains a threat, having long proven themselves when their backs are against the wall.
Add in that the runners-up of the last two all-Filipino tournaments entered the playoffs as the league’s hottest team, having strung up six consecutive wins to close out the elimination round.
Magnolia were then on the verge of upsetting the second-seeded Fuel Masters. The Hotshots were up by a field goal, 88-86, with less than two minutes remaining thanks to the efforts of star big man Ian Sangalang.
Matthew Wright and the Fuel Masters, however, were undaunted.
“I just told every one to calm down,” said the Fil-Canadian sniper.
“We were supposed to win that game. We’re the higher seed. We ain’t duckin’ no team. We’re not afraid of playing anybody.”
They proved just that, most especially Wright.
With the shot clock winding down and with things looking bleak for Phoenix, the 29-year-old was an image of calmness as he took matters into his own hands. After a few dribbles, he rose up for a runner — from beyond the arc.
It went in. 89-88 Phoenix, 9.3 seconds left to play.
The Hotshots still tried to retake the lead, going to Paul Lee. But the gunslinging guard — who has been nothing short of stellar in the bubble — failed to sink his sidestep jumper from the left elbow.
Time expired. The Fuel Masters won. And most importantly, they now head for the semifinals — the second straight time they have reached this stage in the import-less conference.
“We wanna beat the best,” said Wright, who delivered an MVP-caliber outing, finishing with 32 points on a 50-percent clip, along with nine assists and five rebounds. “If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best.
“We knocked off a very good team with championship pedigree, and we played the game the right way. We played with integrity, we played to win. And we know that the basketball gods will give us good karma.”
Indeed, they reaped their rewards.