Defense, unexpected heroes fueled Star’s 3-2 semis lead

MANILA, Philippines - With two minutes left in the clock, the Star Hotshots got a momentary scare as their foes came within striking distance, thanks to a Jayjay Helterbrand triple off a Mark Caguioa dish that brought the Barangay faithful to their feet.

But the Gin Kings failed to follow through, as the once double-digit cushion proved to be an immense help for the Hotshots in closing off the match.

Sabi ko lang sa players ko, we need to start strong on the third. Because [during] the third quarter, laging kami ‘yung slow start,” said Star head Coach Chito Victolero after the 89-80 Game 5 victory.

(I just told my players that we need to start strong on the third. Because during the third quarter, it’s always us who start slow.)

Ginebra connected on 42% of their shots from the field and 7-of-27 from 3-point territory in Game 5, with only Japeth Aguilar scoring in double figures. With the top defensive teams grinding it out for a slot in the PBA Philippine Cup finals, Victolero knows that the only way to keep pace is for the team to find consistency in the specific aspect of the game.

“We have a system and we have materials for playing good defense,” added Victolero. “Nawala ‘yun nung Game 4, ang kailangan lang namin is we need to be consistent on that.” (Our defense was off in Game 4, we just need to be consistent on that.)

Victolero likewise credited the unsung heroes in Star’s Game 5 win, including veteran Rafi Reavis, who had been consistent on both ends of the floor after listing a double-double.

“My bench players like Rodney Brondial, PJ Simon, Justin Melton – they stepped up big for this Game 5,” shared Victolero.

Si Rafi, at si Ping [Marc Pingris], dalawa silang anchor sa depensa namin. Very important siya sa system ko.” (Rafi and Ping are our anchors in defense. He’s very important for my system.)

Heading into Game 6, the Hotshots know they have a tough battle to gear up for as the Gin Kings will try to force a semifinal rubber match. As Victolero puts it, fans can expect the unexpected.

Alam naman natin na si Coach Tim [Cone], mag-aadjust siya,” said Victolero. (We all know Coach Tim will adjust.)

“He’s a brilliant coach, so we expect a very hard battle on Sunday. We will expect the unexpected combination.” –