Whatever pain Magnolia coach Chito Victolero may be feeling was eased somewhat by the Hotshots when they hurdled Terrafirma, 100-92, Wednesday in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Nikola Rakocevic outdueled fellow import Lester Prosper with a 45-point, 25-rebound debut he laced with some crucial baskets down the stretch that enabled Magnolia to fully overcome Terrafirma’s tough stance.
“He plays both ends of the floor, I mean he contributes to our defensive scheme, he contributes on our offense, very aggressive,” noted Victolero of the 24-year-old Serbian who shot 17-of-26 from the floor and also had two assists, as many steals and three blocks.
Rakocevic, a former USC Trojan who last played in China, was quick to deflect the credit to his teammates and coaches, particularly Victolero, who injured his left Achilles tendon while working out last Sunday.
“I’ve got a lot of good players around me, so it makes it a lot easier,” said Rakocevic. “I just try to play hard, do everything I can to help this team.”
Indeed, the Magnolia locals also came up huge in helping launch their campaign in the mid-season conference on a bright note with Jio Jalalon finishing with 12 points and seven assists and Ian Sangalang notching 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Paul Lee and Mark Barroca also helped the Hotshots overcome the absence of Calvin Abueva, nursing an injured groin, and a 91-92 deficit when the former boomed in a buzzer-beating triple, followed by a Barroca floater that sparked their closing 9-0 run that Rakocevic capped with four straight points.