Rain or Shine was missing two key players and there were also worries about its long layoff.
The Elasto Painters proved such concerns were unfounded when they came out a 97-82 victor over Phoenix Sunday to claim solo second spot in the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Rain or Shine used an early surge to seize full control and then had an answer to each of Phoenix’s attempts to stage a comeback as the E-Painters notched their second straight win, one that is extra special.
Foremost among the Rain or Shine players who shone was Jericho Cruz, who highlighted his teamhigh 21 points with three straight triples in the fourth period that helped his side keep its distance from the gritty Fuel Masters.
Jeff Chan added 12 points and James Yap 10 for Rain or Shine, which hardly missed the services of Raymond Almazan, out with a calf muscle injury, and Gabe Norwood (viral infection).
“We really wanted to start the year with a win,” said victorious coach Caloy Garcia after Rain or Shine followed up its 107-97 win over NLEX last Dec. 23.
“If you look at the standings, the teams are all bundled up, so each win is important.”
The dividends were indeed huge as the E-Painters improved to 5-2 overall, just behind defending champion San Miguel Beer’s 6-1 slate going to its match against Ginebra later in the evening.
The win is also dedicated to the memory of Margaret Yu, mother of team co-owner Raymund, who passed away on Christmas eve.
“It is very sad when you lose somebody, especially your No. 1 fan, and the whole Rain or Shine community is still grieving,” related Garcia. “Hopefully, after getting this win magiging masaya naman si Mommy kaya this win really means a lot.”
Matthew Wright scattered a new career-high 26 points while JC Intal and John Wilson each scored 10. But Phoenix was foiled in its bid to notch a third straight win and instead dropped to an even 4-4 record that put it alongside idle Blackwater at fifth.
Phoenix only has itself to blame after failing to match the E-Painters’ intensity that enabled the latter to withstand each of the Fuel Masters’ attempts at a fightback.
And there was Cruz, who actually scored 16 of his output in the second half, but shone brightest after Rain or Shine saw a 21-point 66-45 lead whittled to just 81-72, still 6:04 left.
By the time Cruz was done in just a span of 52 seconds, the difference was back to 16 and it was cruise control for the E-Painters from there.
A portent of things to come was already had when Rain or Shine used a 12-0 run from a 0-2 deficit to seize full control, but equally crucial was Phoenix starting off the third quarter going 0-of-13 from the floor and committing two turnovers.
Rain or Shine was all too willing to pounce, unleashing a 13-0 run to post its 66-45 lead, before Gelo Alolino broke the silence for Phoenix with an elbow jumper.
Still, the E-Painters finished the canto comfortably holding sway 78-61.
RAIN OR SHINE 97 – Cruz 21, Chan 12, Yap 10, Tolomia 9, Trollano 9, Washington 9, Matias 8, Ahanmisi 8, Tiu 6, Ponferrada 3, Belga 2, Maiquez 0.
PHOENIX 82 – Wright 26, Intal 10, J. Wilson 10, Alolino 8, Baguio 8, Borboran 7, Torres 5, Enciso 3, Hayes 3, Caperal 2, W. Wilson 0, Lanete 0.
Quarters: 30-20, 53-45, 78-61, 97-82.