(MENAFN -Arab News) In a series deemed so close, Rain or Shine took the proverbial headstart right under the nose of San Mig Coffee.
Paul Lee converted an alley-oop play off an inbound with nine-tenths of a second left Friday night and keyed an 83-80 victory over the Mixers that allowed the Elasto Painters to grab momentum in their PBA Philippine Cup title series playoff at the Araneta Coliseum.
It was a brilliant execution on the part of the Painters as Gabe Norwood fed Lee with the perfect pass after Jeff Chan attracted mush of the perimeter defense on him.
“It’s just the first game and we got lucky out there,” Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao said. “We set up the play for Jeff (Chan) but it was Paul who got open. It was good recognition by Gabe (in the inbound).
“Game 1 is really a feeling out game,” Guiao added. “The bench of San Mig is really giving us problems.”
Game 2 is slated Sunday also at the Araneta Coliseum, and Rain or Shine will have the chance to gain a more comfortable edge with another win.
The Painters, with the win, won the franchise’s first title series game in an all-Filipino conference after they were blanked by Talk ‘N Text in four straight games last season. It also put Guiao within three more victories of winning the first such title in a colorful career on the bench.
After coming from a taxing seven-game series against sister squad Barangay Ginebra in the Final Four and having just one day to cool their heels, most experts felt that the Mixers would come into the game a tired lot.
But there was no evidence of that, and after the effort that his players gave, coach Tim Cone readily took the blame on himself.
“I feel really horrible,” Cone, who is seeking to overtake Baby Dalupan as the winningest coach of all time, said. “That (defensive breakdown) was on me. Yeng really did a brilliant play. That (lost) game was on me.” “Our guys really played hard,” Cone said in a somber tone. “They gave us a chance to win it but I blew it for them. Tomorrow I am going to wake up fresh and start preparing for Game 2.” Beau Belga and Jervy Cruz, who forged the game’s last tie at 80, paced the Painters with 15 points each as the game took a very defensive character right from the start.
The Mixers grabbed an 80-78 lead with under 35 seconds left after the two straight jumpers from James Yap. But what was painful for Cone to accept was the fact that they had a chance to win it by having possession with still 22.5 to go after Cruz made a jumphook for that 80-all standoff.
Lee also converted on a free throw after that alley-oop play with Norwood after San Mig was called for a technical foul by calling for a time that the Mixers didn’t have anymore.
Meanwhile, Barangay Ginebra, which bowed out of the Philippine Cup just three nights before after a devastating Game 7 loss to the Mixers, has started preparing for the Commissioner’s Cup opening in the first week of March by signing up an import.
Leon Rodgers, a veteran of many pro leagues all over the world, has come to terms with the Gin Kings, who will start practice on Thursday and prepare early for one of two coming ‘sprint’ tournaments.
The Commissioner’s Cup will have each of the 10 teams playing just nine games in the elimination round, and a headstart in practice can certainly serve any team well.
Rodgers, who played NCAA ball for Northern Illinois but went undrafted in the 2002 NBA rookie proceedings, is a noted shooter and scorer, once dropping 15 triples in one game in China on the way to a career-high 66 points.
Defending champion Alaska will be bringing back the hardworking Rob Dozier, also the winner of the Best Import award last season, with Rain or Shine tapping Alex McLean and Globalport enlisting the services of Evan Brock, the former Barako Bull import.
Talk ‘N Text signed up Richard Howell and Herve Lamizana will play for Air21 with San Mig to be reinforced by James Mays.
Air21 and Meralco, the first two teams that got eliminated in the Philippine Cup, have been allowed to get imports with a height limit of 6-foot-11. All the other teams have a 6-foot-9 ceiling for their reinforcements.