Bright start for Painters
Rain or Shine started the year the way it wanted and eased the pain that dulled the celebrations of the last holiday season.
Trailing for just the first 10 seconds against Phoenix Petroleum last night, the grieving Elasto Painters resumed their PBA Philippine Cup campaign with a masterful 97-82 demolition of the Fuel Masters that put them in second place in the standings at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Coach Caloy Garcia wanted the win to jumpstart the new year, but more importantly, ease the pain of the team somewhat after Margaret Yu, the mother of Rain or Shine co-owner Raymund, passed away on Christmas Eve.
“It’s very sad that we lost somebody, especially our No. 1 fan,” Garcia said. “The whole Rain or Shine community is still grieving. Hopefully, after getting this win, Mommy (whom everyone in the PBA called the late Mrs. Yu) is happy. This win means a lot.”
Jericho Cruz hit three straight triples in a 52-second span during the most critical time of the fourth quarter and sealed Rain or Shine’s second straight win in a 5-2 card that kept league-leading San Miguel Beer within sight.
That Rain or Shine pounded the Fuel Masters to near submission practically the entire night spoke highly of how mentally and physically tough this team is, considering that the Elasto Painters played minus key men Gabe Norwood and Raymund Almazan.
All but one
Cruz went on to finish with 21 points to lead all Rain or Shine shooters, with Jeff Chan shooting 12 and James Yap firing 10.
Only Dexter Maiquez failed to score from among the 12 players that Garcia put on the floor as the Painters downplayed their readiness to contend for a top two berth after the elimination round where a twice-to-beat privilege awaits.
The Painters return to action in five days, clashing with the defending champion Beermen in what could be the most important match of the round for them.
Garcia hopes to have Norwood back by then after his defensive-minded guard sat out last night after contacting sore eyes.
Meralco, GlobalPort and then Alaska will be Rain or Shine’s final three foes after the San Miguel match, and depending on the result of the Beermen’s clash with sister team Barangay Ginebra that was going on at press time, the Painters could ultimately have a shot at the top spot.
Phoenix, meanwhile, continued to blow hot and cold and lost for the fourth time in eight games, trailing the Painters by as big as 21 points even with rookie Matthew Wright again having a brilliant offensive night.
Wright, the second overall choice behind Mac Belo in the overall Draft, hit 26 points, 15 of them coming in the second half.
But the Fuel Masters, as a while, shot just 37 points in the last two periods.
With less than a month of action left, jockeying for the top two berths will reach fever pitch as only four teams will get the boot and the top two earning the lightest assignments in the quarterfinals.
The first and second-ranked teams will clash with Nos. 8 and 7, respectively, needing to win just once to advance to the Final Four. The last two semifinalists will be determined via a best-of-three series.