The Year In Sports: Rain or Shine Emerges

(Editor’s note: Yahoo! PH Sports looks back at the year that was with a series of blogs recalling the highlights and lowlights of Philippine sports.)

Coach Yeng Guiao turned Rain or Shine into a legitimate title contender. (PBA Images)

Fresh off a championship in the Commissioner’s Cup, the B-Meg Llamados had back-to-back crowns on their minds in the PBA 2012 Governors’ Cup. They had a solid local crew, led by scorers James Yap and Peter June Simon, as well as the hardworking Marc Pingris at forward. Plus, they had recruited a versatile import, Marqus Blakely, who played both ways and stuffed the stat sheets. Coach Tim Cone seemed to have found the perfect mix once again.

B-Meg fared well in the elimination round, ending up at the number two spot. In the next round, B-Meg clinched a Finals berth playoff, which they eventually won against the Barangay Ginebra Kings, to make it to the Finals for the second straight conference.

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To the surprise of many, however, the team that ended up with the best record in the eliminations, and which eventually grabbed an outright Finals berth, was Rain or Shine, a team which had evolved from league whipping boy just a few seasons earlier, into a legitimate contender, with a chance to grab its first-ever championship.

Playing a rough and tumble type of basketball, sharing the ball, and having the right mix of shooters, rebounders and all kinds of role players, the Elasto Painters showed the rest of the teams that they meant business. Under the firm leadership of Coach Yeng Guiao, plus the consistent effort of hardworking import Jamelle Cornely, Rain or Shine did not intend to be a mere guest in the Finals, but instead wanted to host the party.

Rain or Shine had beaten B-Meg twice in the earlier rounds, yet observers were still giving the edge to B-Meg based on “championship experience”. Undaunted and playing as if with nothing to lose, the Elasto Painters stormed into the Big Dome for Game 1 and pounced upon the Llamados, snatching Game 1 with a double-figure win, 91-80. Cornley (25 points) thoroughly outplayed Blakely, rookie sensation Paul Lee had 14 points in his Finals debut, and Yap’s 19 points were not enough for B-Meg to keep pace.

In Game 2, stepping up to the challenge, Blakely (26 points, 16 rebounds) and Yap (24 points) put the Llamados on their shoulders and willed their team to victory. The contest was tight all the way, and crucial shots by Yap in the payoff period made the difference. The series was tied at one game apiece, and Rain or Shine was left pondering its future when its lead orchestrator, Lee, aggravated a shoulder injury, forcing him to leave the hardcourt late in the game. Coach Guiao, however, guaranteed a Rain or Shine series victory in spite of his team losing Game 2.

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Despite the absence of Lee, who was relegated to head cheerleading chores from the bench, Rain or Shine played superbly in Game 3, led by the sniping of rising star Jeff Chan, who scattered 18 points, all in the second half, and the bounce-back performance of Cornley (26 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists), taking the series lead with a 93-84 victory. The score was closer than the game actually was, as Rain or Shine led by more than 20 points in the fourth, and cruised the rest of the way. Jireh Ibañes, Ronjay Buenafe, and Gabe Norwood also scored in double figures for the Elasto Painters.

B-Meg established early dominance in Game 5, leading by as much as 17 points in the first quarter, but Rain or Shine exhibited resiliency, patience and fortitude, as it closed the gap to just 2 points at the half. Cornley (23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists) continued to consistently pierce the basket inside the lane, and the reserves helped out to bring the Elasto Painters to victory, 94-89, and give the team a commanding 3-1 series lead, needing only one game to achieve a franchise first championship run. Yap led B-Meg with 25 points, Blakely had 22, and Simon and Josh Urbiztondo also scored in double figures.

Prior to Game 5, Paul Lee was proclaimed as the season’s shoo-in Rookie of the Year. Surely, he would have helped his team’s cause in the series, but they were doing just fine without him, only one step away from securing the crown against a highly-favored team.

Rookie of the Year Paul Lee injured his shoulder during the finals. (PBA Images)

B-Meg, exhibiting veteran resolve, would not go down without a fight. In the next two games, the Llamados held Rain or Shine to just 81 points each time, prevailing by double figures in both, 91-81 and 97-81, to tie the series at three games apiece, forcing its second Game 7 in a finals series in as many conferences. Yap went berserk in Game 5, scoring 30 points, and big man Yancy de Ocampo scored a series-high 14, in a highly physical game, which saw Yap called for a flagrant against Ibañes, and the ejection of Beau Belga for tangling with Blakely. Pingris missed the game with a neck injury.

A seeming momentum shift in the series came in Game 6, where B-Meg was clicking on all cylinders, leading by as much as 24 points, dominating from both the inside and out (11 three-pointers). Cornley had a sub-par performance, scoring only 14 points, and Rain or Shine’s usual outside shooting deserted them throughout the game, punctuated by Chan’s 1 of 9 performance from beyond the arc. Yap (20), Blakely (19), Simon (16), and Jonas Villanueva (11) scored in double digits for the Llamados.

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So the stage was set. It was all down to one game for all the glory. Clearly, B-Meg was on a roll, winning two straight games, riding high on an emphatic Game 6 performance, and armed with a cast of characters that had been in the league for many winning years. But Rain or Shine was now equally, if not more confident, knowing it could definitely defeat its adversary, as it had done already five times in the conference. Surely, they believed, or hoped, that one more time would not be that difficult a task.

It seemed easy for Rain or Shine at the start of Game 7, after it raced out to a double digit lead in the first quarter. However, B-Meg, a bit jittery at the start, regained its composure and closed the gap at halftime. The second half promised to be a mega-battle, as the teams traded shots, but a careless foul by Blakely forced Coach Cone to sit him down in the middle of the third quarter, and it surely cost the Llamados. Yap (23 points) continued to carry the fight for his team, but Blakely, sent back in early in the fourth quarter, committed his sixth foul with more than eight minutes remaining in the game, signaling doom for the B-Meg faithful.

With their first PBA title, the Elasto Painters have altered the landscape of the league. (PBA Images)

Cornley, who was adjudged the Conference’s Best Import, masterfully tore up the inside, scoring and rebounding time and again (20 and 15). Unheralded upon his entry in the PBA, he was one of the imports who played and stayed throughout the Conference, and showed consistency, strength, and energy, which greatly helped his team get over the top. Rain or Shine never felt the need to replace him as he fit right in with the team that was at the top of the standings the entire way.

Chan’s (15 points) shooting touch returned just in time, and Norwood played a great all-around game. In the end, B-Meg just didn’t have enough in its tank to mount a comeback, and the Rain or Shine Elastopainters had garnered their fourth win of the series, 83-76, painting the coliseum with its team colors and securing the first title in the six-year history of the franchise.

Finals MVP Jeff Chan came into his own during the Governors Cup. (PBA Images)

Chan, despite his up-and-down performance throughout the series, was named Finals MVP. Throughout the season, he had shown that he was making his way up the player rankings, coming through as a deadly outside shooter, but adding versatility to his game by working on his mid-range game, penetrating to the basket, and showcasing some passing and rebounding skills. He was named the league’s Most Improved Player.

Overall, B-Meg got outplayed, outhustled, and “out-physical-ed”. Rain or Shine came together as the season progressed, put the right pieces in place, and followed the lead of their Coach, who always stressed that there were no superstars in the lineup, just one unit playing together. Fittingly, they won a championship to cap it all off.

You can follow Charlie Cuna on Twitter @Charlie C.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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