After three pulsating games in the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup finals, the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok find themselves up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series against the four-time reigning champions San Miguel Beermen.

A crucial factor in this impressive feat by Magnolia is the magnificent showing of their big men. Rafi Reavis, Ian Sangalang, Aldrech Ramos, Rodney Brondial, and Kyle Pascual have shown that they can handle the challenge of taking on five-time Philippine Cup Best Player of the Conference (BPC) Junemar Fajardo and the rest of San Miguel’s talented frontcourt.

Magnolia’s backcourt (Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, Paul Lee, and Justin Melton) have captured most of the headlines due to their lightning-quick pace, playmaking, and scoring repertoire, but the big men deserve a share of the spotlight as well.

When Marc Pingris succumbed to an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury last March 10, 2018 against the NLEX Road Warriors, many thought that the Hotshots would struggle without him. It was not a surprising reaction as the former finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) is a rebounding machine and has been the anchor of the franchise ever since.

You would have understood if head coach Chito Victolero panicked during that moment. Instead, he treated the injury of the franchise’s main big man as a challenge. He dug deep into his bench and gave added responsibility to each of his frontcourt players.

In the first three games of the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup finals, the five-man frontcourt rotation of Victolero has held their ground against the deadly big men of the Beermen. Pascual and Brondial – in their limited minutes – have provided Magnolia additional muscle inside the paint. They are blue collar workers who do anything for their team.

Ramos, usually the first big off the bench in this series, has stretched the floor with his smooth outside touch. The former FEU Tamaraw draws the San Miguel big men far away from the paint – which makes it easier for the Magnolia guards/wings to slash inside and convert uncontested baskets.

Yet, the story of Magnolia’s frontcourt will be centered around a duo. Rafi Reavis and Ian Sangalang have been starring the Hotshots since Game 1, and have emerged as worthy adversaries to whatever San Miguel continues to throw.

The 41-year old Reavis continuously defies Father Time as he shows no sign of slowing down. In three games, he has averaged a double-double with 10.0 points per game (ppg) and 10.0 rebounds per game (rpg). He is also scoring at an efficient rate as his field goal shooting is at 55.56%.

Reavis’ rebounding and versatility in the defensive end will always be his calling card, but in this series, he has displayed that he is more than that. With the San Miguel defense focused on the other players, Reavis often finds himself open for mid-range jump shots. It seems like he has the green light from Victolero as he confidently attempts to shoot every time the opportunity arises. Luckily for him and the team, Reavis has knocked-down these types of shots and has kept Magnolia afloat.

On the other hand, starting frontcourt partner, Sangalang, has averaged 17.33 ppg, 9.33 rpg, 1.33 apg, 0.33 steals per game (spg), 1.33 blocks per game (bpg) in three games. He has taken the bulk of Magnolia’s offensive sets down low and has produced magnificently.

The former San Sebastian Golden Stag has an array of moves inside the paint which makes him difficult to guard. Sangalang’s face-up game remains deadly and he has added a three-point shot to his arsenal as well. He hasn’t made a single three this series yet, but the very fact that it is a weapon means a lot to the spacing of the Hotshots.

In relation to the scintillating performance of the Hotshots’ frontcourt in this title bout, allow me to share to you a pretty famous quote this is used in the sport (pretty sure Pingris and die-hard anime fans recognize this since it was repeatedly stated in the legendary anime Slam Dunk).

“The one who controls the rebounds controls the game.”

Grabbing rebounds is a crucial and often underrated aspect in the game of basketball. If you’re in the offensive side, then snatching a few boards will give you the opportunity to increase your possession. Meanwhile, if you’re on the defensive end, it obviously prevents your opponents from scoring second chance points while also opening up the possibility of running on the break.

Magnolia’s big men have dominated the rebounding department by a wide margin in Game 3 of the 2019 Philippine Cup finals, which was the biggest factor that led to their convincing victory. They had a whopping 71 total rebounds (22 second chance points) – 25 more rebounds than what San Miguel recorded.

Fajardo pulled-down 14, while Arwind Santos added 12, but nobody reached at least 5 rebounds outside those two. For Magnolia, Reavis, Sangalang, Ramos, and Pascual combined for 40 rebounds themselves. That showing was a testament to the Hotshots’ hustle and sense of urgency as they ran circles around the Beermen – who was playing a zone defense in Game 3.

Employing this kind of defense has its pros and cons, and the latter was clearly exposed by the Hotshots. In a zone defense, you only focus on defending the space that you occupy – which makes it easier for an offensive player to slither inside the paint and pluck the rebounds. San Miguel seemingly forgot how to box-out hard and relied too heavily on just jumping and hoping for the best.

The Beermen look vulnerable (fatigue, injuries, etc.) for the first time in years and the Hotshots should capitalize on this rare moment if they want to end San Miguel’s five-peat journey.

Magnolia needs to treat Game 4 as the fight of their lives and do whatever it takes to take that 3-1 edge over their sister-company team rival. Their guards will forever be the more popular names. But it may be their big men who hold the power to gain the Infinity Stones to snap away the Thanos that is San Miguel.

To borrow Captain America’s line..

“Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok!!! Assemble!!!!”