The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters managed to stop the Alaska Aces’ automatic trip to the semi-finals by staging a come from behind victory, 98-95. The Elasto Painters have now won six straight games and in order to grab one of the top two spots, they need to continue their hot streak and beat their final assignment – Barangay Ginebra. Meanwhile, Alaska still has a chance to get that coveted outright semis berth, depending on the fates of other teams (i.e. San Miguel Beermen losing to Blackwater).
The Aces stayed in the driver’s seat for most of the match, but just when it seemed like they’re getting away with the win that comes with a ticket to the semis, ROS spoiled the
milk party and delivered during crunch time.
The Elasto Painters tied the game with 34 seconds remaining courtesy of a cold-blooded triple from none other than their Lethal Weapon, Paul Lee. Calvin Abueva quickly answered and gave Alaska a two-point advantage. Jeff Chan was fouled on the other end, swished the first freebie but uncharacteristically missed the second. Then out of nowhere, Jericho Cruz ran and crashed the board ahead of everyone else, putting ROS on top and leaving Alaska with 18 seconds to regain the edge. Eric Menk almost did the damage but the ball refused to go in. As Lee grabbed the rebound, Cruz was already running to the other side, and to the delight of the crowd and his teammates, the rookie got the long pass from Lee, dipped the leather to the basket, and sealed the deal for his team.
Paul Lee and Beau Belga had a double-double production with the former tallying 19 points, ten rebounds, and five assists, and the latter dropping 16 points and eleven rebounds. Calvin Abueva and Eric Menk, on the other hand, carried the Aces in a losing rally with 18-8 and 16-9 respectively.
SUPER ROOKIE JERICHO CRUZ
Jericho Cruz has been pretty solid for Rain or Shine from the very start. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 23.2 is second best in the team, next to Lee’s 29. He averages nine points and three rebounds per contest. In this crucial match, he contributed 16 points including back-to-back clutch baskets, with an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 85.7 and true shooting percentage (TS%) of 91.3. Quite impressive, huh? Add also six boards, four dimes, and three steals to his stat line. The rookie provides energy on both ends of the court and he always makes the most out of the minutes that Coach Yeng Guiao gives him.
MONEY FROM THE STRIPE AND THE BREAK
Both ROS and the Aces made a living out of the charity stripe, but it was Lee’s ability to draw contact that prevailed in the end. The Angas ng Tondo made five of six free throw attempts in the last three and a half minutes of the final frame (11-of-12 in total). He just continued attacking the defense of Alaska, always stepping on the gas despite the heavy traffic. Rain or Shine was awarded 14 freebies (12 made) in the fourth quarter alone, compared to Alaska’s eight (five made).
Rain or Shine also capitalized on their specialties: scoring out of fastbreaks and turnovers. They currently lead the league in these two categories, averaging 14.4 and 17.3 respectively. They’ve been really unstoppable whenever they get those opportunities to run and leave their opponents in the dust.
BOXING OUT THE BEAST
We all know that taming Calvin Abueva is no easy feat. It was a team effort to box out the Beast and limit him to eight rebounds, which was below his average of 13. ROS worked hard on the glass overall, slightly edging Alaska, 48 to 47. Had they allowed the Aces to get more possessions like how they’ve been faring earlier in the conference, the complexion of the game (and the ending) would have been very different.
Rain or Shine fielded twelve players, which was a welcome change considering they’ve only played nine or ten in the past how many outings. They obviously need a longer and healthier rotation heading into the playoffs. But before that, they still have to overcome another difficult battle versus Ginebra (scheduled only two days after this grueling match) in the hopes of skipping the quarterfinals and giving ample time for their injured personnel to rest and recover.