Powerade takes 3-2 series lead

Marcio Lassiter and the Tigers are one win away from the finals. Photo by Sid Ventura.

The curse of Friday the 13th struck the Araneta Coliseum after a freak accident at a nearby construction site knocked out power and forced the Powerade-Rain or Shine game to be played without air conditioning.

By the end of the game, the Elasto Painters probably thought they were cursed as well.

The Tigers overhauled a six-point deficit in the last 1:44, holding the E-Painters scoreless over the last 1:18 to essay another thrilling come-from-behind victory, winning 110-108 to grab a crucial 3-2 series lead and move within a game of an improbable stint in the PBA Philippine Cup finals.

Continuing a pattern that's held throughout the first five games, Powerade has won all its games by a close margin, while Rain or Shine has won its two games by double digits. The Elasto Painters were in great position, though, to reverse this trend, seizing a six-point lead at 106-100 with a Gabe Norwood split with 1:44 left after Marcio Lassiter missed an open triple.

Like he has done all throughout these playoffs, Gary David kept the Tigers afloat with a three-point shot that cut the lead to three with 1:30 left. Norwood answered with a drive 12 seconds later to make it a two-possession game once again. And after JV Casio split his free throws with 1:07 left, the E-Painters had to be feeling good about their chances.

But they couldn't put the game away, missing twice and failing to come down on defense after the Tigers had finally secured possession. David led the break, passing off to Lassiter on the right flank, who in turn found Casio open near the left corner. Casio's long two found its mark, and he even drew a foul from an onrushing JR Quiñahan. He sank the bonus free throw, making it 108-107 with only 36.6 seconds remaining.

Quiñahan took an ill-advised three with still plenty of time left on the clock, forcing him to foul Lassiter with 15.8 seconds to go. The Fil-Am swingman nailed both his throws, giving the Tigers a one-point lead. In the next play, Ronjay Buenafe missed a difficult scoop shot along the baseline, and Lassiter was fouled again. This time, he split his free throws, giving Rain or Shine 10.2 seconds to do something to salvage the game.

Larry Rodriguez found himself momentarily open near the basket, but Lassiter atoned for his missed free throw with a huge block on the RoS big man. There were still five seconds left, though, and Jeff Chan got a good look from the corner. But his triple bounced out, and Beau Belga's follow-up from 14 feet was also off, sealing another close, exciting win for the Tigers, who are now one win away from carrying their fairytale ride into the finals.

David topscored for Powerade with 28 points, the first time he has scored below 30 in the playoffs, while Casio had his biggest scoring output in the semis with 25. It was a feat not lost on his coach Bo Perasol.

"The hype, most of the time, belongs to Marcio and Gary," Perasol said. "And the only reason people are talking about those two guys is because JV is delivering [the ball] to them. So this is the time for him to shine. There was a time when the defense of Rain or Shine just kept on choking us and we didn't know what to do. But knowing JV, he just has to find a way to create for us. That four-point play (actually it was just a three-point play) that he did was just tremendous for us."

"I had to be aggressive," Casio said. "I know what I can do. I just have to believe in myself."

But while Casio was big on offense, Perasol noted the team also came up big on defense, especially in the last minute of the game.

"Of course, at the end, what mattered most were the stops that we made against Rain or Shine," he said, referring to their ability to hold the E-Painters scoreless in the last 1:18.

For Rain or Shine, it was another painful collapse reminiscent of their Game 3 overtime loss. If the ball had just bounced a little bit in their favor in Games 3 and 5, they would already be celebrating their first finals appearance in franchise history by now. Instead, the Elasto Painters must now sweep the last two games of the series, beginning with Game 6 on Sunday.

It was a rather disappointing ending for Quiñahan, who led his team with 18 points only to indirectly aid Powerade's rally with that foul on Casio and that missed triple. The loss also wasted the exemplary offensive game of defensive stopper Jireh Ibañes, who scored a season-high 13 points, including six in the third period that helped give RoS its biggest lead of the game at 68-59. But the Tigers quickly responded with a 9-1 run that cut the lead to just one, and from there no team led by more than six points.

E-mail: sid_ventura@yahoo.com.

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