Jericho Cruz took charge late for Rain or Shine as it dealt Star its first loss in the 2017 PBA Governors’ Cup with a 92-88 squeaker Sunday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The energetic guard fired 10 of the Elasto Painters’ final 17 points as they doused the Hotshots’ rally in the fourth quarter and stretch their winning run to three.
Cruz came off the bench and fired 18 points, three rebounds, and three assists in the win.
Rain or Shine, though, had to gut it out in the end as the pesky Star refused to die late, trimming what was once an 11-point lead, 88-77, in the final 1:29, to as low as five, 92-87, after an Allein Maliksi floater with nine seconds left.
Cruz had a chance to seal the game shut in the end, but uncharacteristically muffed both freebies and even fouled Malcolm Hill with four ticks remaining.
Luckily for the Elasto Painters, Hill could only muster a split as Gabe Norwood secured the rebound to end the game.
J’Nathan Bullock poured in 18 markers, 11 boards, five assists, and two blocks as his side remained unbeaten since his entry for first-choice import JD Weatherspoon.
Fresh from their stint with Gilas Pilipinas in the 2017 Fiba Asia Cup, Norwood contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds, and four dimes, while Raymond Almazan had 13 markers and 14 boards in the victory.
“Finally, we were able to beat Star this season. I thought we’ll never win against them [this season],” said ROS coach Caloy Garcia as his side rose to a 4-2 record.
“It’s all defense. It started in the first half, the energy was there, the effort was there. I just told the players that when they’re inside the game, what I look is more efficiency than you being tired. Everybody who played today came out strong,” he added.
From a 28-all deadlock, Rain or Shine unfurled a 24-4 tear abridging the second and third quarters to erect a 52-32 edge at the 7:31 mark of the third period.
However, the trio of Hill, Paul Lee, and Ian Sangalang brought Star back to as close as three, 75-72 with 5:23 remaining before Cruz went on a tear of his own for the Elasto Painters.
“We’ve been playing a lot better,” noted Garcia. “I told the players since we made the trades that we became the number one defensive team based on the stats. I think it’s about defense, the effort is there. When we play good defense, our offense comes. But we still have lapses during the game.
Hill topped Star with 26 points, 20 rebounds, and three assists, while Lee got 17 markers, seven boards, and three dimes.
The Hotshots saw their four-game winning run halted as they absorbed their first loss in five games.
RAIN OR SHINE 92 – Bullock 18, Cruz 18, Norwood 15, Almazan 13, Ahanmisi 10, Matias 5, Borboran 5, Daquioag 5, Tiu 3, Ponferrada 0, Yap 0, Maiquez 0, Trollano 0.
STAR 88 – Hill 26, Lee 17, Sangalang 11, Maliksi 10, Jalalon 8, Barroca 4, Ramos 4, Simon 3, Melton 3, Reavis 2, Brondial 0, Pingris 0, Dela Rosa 0.
Quarters: 15-15, 41-30, 68-56, 92-88.