How close has the PBA Philippine Cup been? Of the eight teams that qualified for the quarterfinals, two finished with 8-3 (win-loss) records and five ended up with 7-4 cards.
That means three teams at the bottom half of the standings missed the Top 4—and valuable twice-to-beat protection in the first round of the playoffs—merely because of quotient points. And they will face a daunting task of beating their higher-seeded foes twice in a one-loss-you’re-out situation to advance to the semifinals.
The odds are tough. But the task isn’t impossible.
“It can happen,” Meralco coach Norman Black said. “Obviously, you’ll have to play good basketball.”
The Bolts held off NorthPort, 80-73, at Angeles University Foundation on Wednesday, but the team that is making its first quarterfinal appearance in the all-Filipino tournament has been playing just passable basketball lately, marked with less-than-stellar performances in the stretch.
“It’s a little bit scary the way we’ve been finishing games lately, giving up big leads,” Black told reporters here.
And as he and the Bolts prepare to overhaul their quarterfinal foe’s playoff bonus, Black will look to address his team’s penchant of surrendering a lot of ground in the crucial moments of a match.
“Because if that happens in the playoffs and you’re playing against much better teams, they may not give up. We may not able to hold that lead against them,” he added.
Meralco advances as the fifth seed and will face defending champion San Miguel Beer in the quarters. The Beermen clung to the fourth seed and claimed the last playoffs incentive and will enter that matchup carrying an 89-82 defeat of the Bolts in the elimination round.
Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, on the other hand, is satisfied where the Hotshots are at entering the playoffs.
“Actually there’s nothing more I could ask. They have given so much,” he said also on Wednesday night, on the heels of a sixth straight victory at the expense of Blackwater, 95-80.
The Hotshots opened a 32-14 lead in the first period and never looked back.
Magnolia is one of the five teams bunched at 7-4 but dropped all the way to No. 7. The Hotshots will face No. 2 Phoenix, one of two teams carrying 8-3 records.
The Hotshots lost to the Fuel Masters in the elimination round, 91-84, after leading most of the way.
“I know we’ll face them [head-on] and we’ll try to grind it out,” Victolero added.
Phoenix, meanwhile, rallied for a 90-88 victory over Rain or Shine in Wednesday’s nightcap, dumping the Elasto Painters into a matchup with No. 1 Barangay Ginebra.
The Kings grabbed the No. 1 spot despite sharing the same record with Phoenix owing to the winner-over-the-other rule.
With very little separating quarterfinalists, everything will boil down to the twice-to-beat incentive for the top squads.
“You have to win two games to get into the playoffs. That’s what it comes down to,” said Black, who turns 63 on Thursday. “If you could get that first win you put a little pressure on the team with the advantage and you’d get that second win.”