MANILA, Philippines - In the PBA, there's absolutely no room for complacency.
The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters came too close to learning that lesson the hard way. They allowed the Air21 Express to climb back from a 20-point hole in the third before getting back in control in the payoff period and securing the second seed and the twice-to-beat edge, 104-94, on Saturday, January 18 in the PLDT myDSL Philippine Cup at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
"We prepared seriously for this game. We knew that it would be crucial for us to get the twice to beat advantage," Rain or Shine head coach Yeng Guiao said.
"Everybody made a contribution in this game. We knew how dangerous Air21 is, especially playing without pressure. We did not take this game lightly, we prepared for it mentally and physically."
The Painters built their biggest lead of the ball game at 20, 43-23, in the second period. They then held a 54-41 halftime advantage that was a product of an 11-5 disparity in assists, coupled with efficient shooting (18-of-28 or 64.3%) in the first 24 minutes. But the Painters fell complacent in the third quarter, allowing Air21 a window of opportunity.
The Express readily scratched and clawed their way to that window as they trimmed the deficit to three, 73-70, on a split by Asi Taulava on the line with 3:17 to play in the third.
But Rain or Shine's rookies came to play in this game and simply refused to leave the Big Dome without ensuring they owned the second seed in the playoffs.
Former King Tiger for the University of Santo Tomas Jeric Teng strutted some of the sweet shooting he was known for as a star shooting guard by scoring on two triples and finishing with 13 points and 7 boards.
Alex Nuyles, the rookie forward out of Adamson University, once again showcased his athleticism and the shooting touch he's been working on in the pros. Nuyles pushed Rain or Shine's lead heading into the fourth, 81-74, with a high-looping shot that kissed the bottom of the net perfectly.
He then scored the Painters' first 4 points of the final period to bring the lead back up to 11, 85-74. Nuyles finished with 13 points and added 4 rebounds.
Next to step up was the pride of Colegio de San Juan de Letran. The third overall pick in last year’s draft and lanky big man Raymond Almazan authored a 6-1 run all by himself and challenged veteran Taulava without hesitation. He later scored a bucket at the 5:56 mark to make it a 16-point mountain for Air21, 96-80.
Almazan scored 13 as well and grabbed 8 rebounds.
"I'm very happy with the 3 rookies. It was really an opportunity for them," Guiao said. "I knew if we had a good lead I was going to be able to rest Paul (Lee), Gabe (Norwood) and Jeff (Chan). They (rookies) did justice to the playing time that was given to them."
The Painters will move on to the playoffs as the second seed and will go up against the seventh seed who will have to beat Rain or Shine twice to advance.
Rain or Shine (104): Almazan 13, Nuyles 13, Teng 13, Arana 10, Rodriguez 10, Belga 7, Cruz 7, Chan 7, Lee 7, Norwood 7, Tiu 5, Tang 2, Ibanes 2, Quinahan 1.
Air21 (94): Yeo 19, Canaleta 19, Manuel 17, Taulava 16, Ritualo 13, Custodio 6, Cardona 4, Borboran 0, Jaime 0, Matias 0, Espiritu 0, Sharma 0, Camson 0.
Quarters: 28-17, 54-41, 81-74, 104-94 - Rappler.com