‘We need to stay together’: Rain or Shine grapples with near elimination
MANILA, Philippines – In a rare instance after a loss, the Rain or Shine locker room was eerily silent. Coach Yeng Guiao could not be overheard giving his players a piece of his mind. The team did not stay inside for long as well.
Rain or Shine’s 82-75 loss to San Miguel Beer particularly stung as it put them on the brink of elimination with a 4-6 record – a highly unusual sight for a team viewed as a standard for consistency in the PBA when they contend for the title every conference.
One by one, players left quietly, including guard Paul Lee, who walked out with his head down staring at the floor.
The 27-year-old Finals MVP from just 4 months ago scored only two points on one-of-5 shooting in over 20 minutes of play. He had 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, and missed his lone triple attempt.
It was far from his usual performance as the clutch “Lethal Weapon,” and it took Lee 25 seconds and several long pauses to put into words the reason for his poor showing.
“Uhmm… maybe… bad game,” he said, sullen and lost in his thoughts as he continued to stare at the ground.
“Kasi sa isang player nagkakaroon din talaga ng off night (Players sometimes get off nights). Maybe it’s not my day today,” he finally finished. Lee was the picture of what every Elasto Painter was feeling at this juncture.
The loss was critical for Rain or Shine’s chances at making the playoffs with only one game remaining, against the already eliminated Star Hotshots on Friday, September 16.
The Painters currently sit just outside of the top 8, but with a chance to tie for a 5-6 record and bank on a good enough quotient or go through a playoff game. Alaska, NLEX, Meralco, and Phoenix all hold similar 5-5 records as of Saturday.
This is uncharted territory for Rain or Shine, a team that prior to this Governors’ Cup has been to 12 straight playoffs, 9 consecutive semifinals, and 4 finals appearances from the franchise's first PBA title in 2012 up to its second one last conference.
Team captain Gabe Norwood maintained his eloquence amid his obvious distress.
“It hurts. We knew what was on the line. This win pretty much would’ve taken care of us getting in but it’s just a tough spot right now, we’re going through some things. We’ve got one more chance to get it right,” he explained.
“We’re not used to it. This is unfamiliar territory for everybody. The last 3 years have been pretty consistent for all of us. We just got to find a way to push.”
Rain or Shine played catch-up with San Miguel for most of Saturday night. They inched to within two points with over two minutes to play but found themselves struggling to properly execute.
Usual offensive weapon Jeff Chan went scoreless while guys like Beau Belga (6 points), Raymond Almazan (one point), and rookie Maverick Ahanmisi (6 points) struggled as well.
Norwood and Lee shared that the mood in the locker room was somber with few words uttered. There wasn’t much to say after all, Norwood said.
“We’re going through a time where we’ve got no idea what to do. We’ve never been here before, we haven’t been in this situation kind of fighting for our lives in the eliminations,” he explained.
“We’ve gone through tough series and things like that but hopefully this will be a character-builder for us as individuals and as a team to come out and get a win on Friday.”
As this champion team grapples with the very real possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 conferences, Lee calls for unity now more than ever.
“We need to stay together,” Lee said in Filipino, before walking away.
“If we’re together during the ups, this is the down time. We’re down now. There’s no reason for us to blame each other because Rain or Shine is known as one team. No pointing fingers. We just need to stay together, ups and downs, whatever happens.” – Rappler.com