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Hurting Nick fires up Magnolia

It was a big help. His return inspired the team.

Import Nick Rakocevic played in pain to power Magnolia to a 102-95 victory over Phoenix in the quarterfinals of the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup late Friday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.

Rakocevic nursed a swollen ankle but returned in the second half to fire up the Hotshots and send them to the semifinals of this import-flavored conference.

The Serbian-born forward who played for University of Southern California finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and four steals as his solid game on both ends provided the energy and inspiration to the Hotshots.

“It was a big help. His return inspired the team,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, who missed the team’s quarterfinal game after he was placed under health and safety protocols.

“Because of Nick, it raised our level of energy and our execution became better.”

Victolero explained that there’s still some swelling on the injured ankle of Rakocevic, but that’s expected.

He believes that the injured ankle will be playable come the start of the semifinals series where the Hotshots face the winner of the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel-NorthPort tussle.

“Our physical therapists are doing everything to minimize the swelling and get him ready to play in the semis,” said Victolero, who also clarified that he’ll be ready to rejoin his squad on Sunday’s resumption of practice and prepare for the coming semis.

For Rakocevic, playing in pain wasn’t something new.

Early in the tournament, he hurt his knee and reports cropped up that he will be replaced.

But he showed no signs of slowing down and remained to be a big factor in the Hotshots’ return to the Final Four for the fourth straight conference.

“I don’t know, maybe the adrenaline,” Rakocevic said.

“The support I had, the coaches and the teammates.”

“When I took my shoe off, it was swollen immediately. When I started putting the shoe back on with the tape on it, it was a good fit. I just wanted to make sure that I can run up and down.”

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