Rain or Shine's free throws hold off Ginebra

In a game that virtually turned into a free-throw shooting contest, Rain or Shine proved steadier down the stretch against Barangay Ginebra Sunday night.

Showing steely nerves, the Elasto Painters knocked down eight charities in the final minute to outlast the Gin Kings 96-93 and gain their fourth straight victory in the PBA Commissioners Cup at the packed Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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Ably filling in the shoes left by 7-foot-3 import Bruno Sundov who fouled out with 12 points at the with 3:09 mark of the fourth, burly forward Beau Belga tallied 18 points, including four pressure-packed charities in the crunch, plus nine rebounds and two blocks to help Rain or Shine held off Ginebra’s last-ditch comeback.

Jervy Cruz and Paul Lee backstopped Belga in the fourth, drilling in 14 of their combined 24 points, as the Elasto Painters improved their win-loss record to 4-1–good for third–while sending the Gin Kings back to the cellar at 1-5.

“We had two lucky escapes,” said a relieved Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao. “For the most part, our import was not able to play but we needed him to be playing. Tribute and credit to the locals for stepping up and working hard for the absence of the import. It’s really a team effort as they’re helping each other out.”

With ace gunner Jeff Chan still out with an injured hand, Jireh Ibanes and Ryan Araña provided the needed offensive lift for Guiao, teaming up for 23 points while taking care of their defensive assignments.

Ginebra, coming off a morale-boosting 93-72 win over Barako Bull last Wednesday, had several chances to tie the count in the critical juncture but Rain or Shine simply thrived at the 15-foot line.

Going down the drain was another impressive performance by Gin Kings import Vernon Macklin, who utilized his 6-foot-10 frame and leaping ability in the paint to finish with a game-best 27 points–a handful of them off alley-oop plays–and 16 rebounds.

Playing his best outing so far in the mid-season conference, Kerby Raymundo tallied 18 points–the same output of reigning league MVP Mark Caguioa–and corralled 11 rebounds but committed a crucial turnover, with the Gin Kings trailing 87-90, time down to just 13.6 seconds.

Battling the deafening boos from more than 12,000 relatively pro-Ginebra crowd, Belga calmly sank his two charities off a Macklin foul, stretching the Painters’ lead to five with 12.2 left.

Flaunting the Gin Kings’ fabled “never-say-die” attitude, Caguioa and LA Tenorio buried back-to-back triples that sandwiched two Lee free throws, making it a 93-94 count with 5.4 seconds to go.

Belga then shredded whatever hopes were left for Ginebra as he made two more charities before blocking Tenorio’s half-court heave as time expired.

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Earlier, Renaldo Balkman stood tallest anew, leading the red-hot Petron Blaze to a masterful 91-78 victory over former team consultant Rajko Toroman and Barako Bull.

The shortest import in the 10-team field at 6-foot-6, Balkman, a Puerto Rican-American, collected 17 of his 33 points in the first half, highlighted by several dunks, to help the Boosters quickly pull away from the reeling Energy Cola.

The emphatic win was Petron Blaze’s fifth straight since absorbing a surprising 92-94 defeat dealt by GlobalPort in the opener last Feb. 8, cementing its hold on the second spot behind unbeaten Alaska (5-0).

Barako Bull, led by import Evan Brock’s 20 points and 24 rebounds, dropped its second straight and third overall against three wins, good for fourth spot.

“I play every game like it’s my last. I can be the shortest (import) but I’ve got the biggest heart. When I’m on the court, that's what I am, unbreakable,” noted Balkman, a former NBA veteran who also added 14 rebounds, four assists, and four steals.

Arwind Santos contributed had 14 markers while defensive ace Ronald Tubid, who had with 10 points along with center June Mar Fajardo, made life miserable for Barako Bull star guard Josh Urbiztondo, who was held down to just six points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field.

His team starting to play like the formidable crew tipped to genuinely contend every conference, Petron coach Olsen Racela noted it was another total team effort but was quick to give credit to his prized import.

“That's how great a defender Renaldo is. He can defend the point guard up to the center of any team. He has great instinct that he got a lot of interceptions. He's been the catalyst and his energy has rubbed on his teammates,” he said.

Up next for the Boosters are the Aces this coming Friday and Racela considers it as “a good match-up for us, a test for this team.”

“We’ve accomplished something pero di pa namin nagagawa lahat. That'll be a gauge to see how far we’ve come as a team,” he stressed.

While Chris Lutz remains doubtful, Racela expects primary playmaker Alex Cabagnot to return against the Aces, who boast steady guards JVee Casio and Cyrus Baguio.

A former New York Knick and a Denver Nugget in the NBA, Balkman scored six of the team’s eight straight points and added another six for a 21-16 lead before the Boosters ripped the game wide-open in the second canto behind their lockdown defense, enjoying a big 45-27 cushion at the break.
 
 
The scores:
 
First Game
 
PETRON (91) – Balkman 33, Santos 14, Fajardo 10, Tubid 10, Lassiter 6, Miranda 4, Pena 4, Lanete 3, Yeo 3, Washington 3, Sison 1, Faundo 0.

BARAKO (78) – Brock 20, Seigle 17, Anthony 12, Maliksi 9, Urbiztondo 6, Macapagal 5, Allado 5, Villanueva 4, Weinstein 0, Kramer 0, Intal 0.
Quarterscores: 21-16, 45-27, 68-47, 91-78
 
Second Game

RAIN OR SHINE (96) – Belga 18, Cruz 13, Sundov 12, Ibanes 12, Lee 11, Arana 11, Quinahan 7, Norwood 5, Tiu 3, Matias 2, Tang 2, Rodriguez 0.

GINEBRA (93) – Macklin 27, Caguioa 18, Raymundo 18, Tenorio 17, Baracael 7, Mamaril 3, Espiritu 2, Hatfield 1, Taha 0, Ellis 0, Labagala 0, Maierhofer 0, Helterbrand 0.
Quarterscores: 27-23, 51-43, 70-68, 96-93 

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