Rain or Shine takes commanding 3-1 lead

This time, it was scrappy forward Ronnie Matias who shone defensively and rookie Chris Tiu who reigned offensively for the Elasto Painters.

With Matias and Tiu coming up with big plays, Rain or Shine repulsed a late-charging San Mig Coffee to fashion out an 83-74 victory Thursday for a commanding 3-1 lead in their semifinals duel in the PBA Philippine Cup at the MOA Arena.

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More than scattering six of his eight points in the payoff period, Matias clamped down on San Mig Coffee star James Yap while Tiu, who finished with 10 points, clustered his team’s last six markers as the Elasto Painters moved on the threshold of a return trip to the finals.

Gabe Norwood tallied 14 points, including an awesome two-handed reverse dunk off a Tiu alley-oop pass in the second canto, while Ryan Arana and gunner Jeff Chan combined for 25 markers and six rebounds, enough to offset a horrible outing by Paul Lee, who struggled with just two and went a horrendous 1-of-7 from the field.

But if not for Matias’ hustle plays coupled with Tiu’s steely nerves, life would have been difficult for Rain or Shine, which saw its whopping 18-point lead in the third reduce to a mere three in the final 71 seconds.

“Again, I’m not really surprised the other guys stepped up,” said RoS coach Yeng Guiao. “Paul Lee played horribly but Chris Tiu stepped up, Ronnie stepped up and Gabe also stepped up. It’s a big game for us.”

The Painters, who also upstaged the Mixers (then known as the B-Meg Llamados) in the Governors Cup in early August, can wrap up the best-of-seven series with another victory this Saturday also at the Pasay-based venue, and Guiao insisted they won’t leave anything to chance.

“Now, we have three chances to make it to the Finals. Our plan is to finish it off on Saturday. Kung kaya namin tapusin sa Sabado, tatapusin na namin,” he stressed.

Yap pumped in nine of his game-high 20 points in the fourth while backcourt buddy PJ Simon contributed 15  markers, his last three pulling the Mixers within 74-77, time down to just 1:11.

But that proved to be San Mig Coffee’s last hurrah, as Rain or Shine tightened up its defensive screws with Tiu coming up with a steal and racking up the marginal points to seal the win.

The Painters’ suffocating defense came to the fore anew, holding the Mixers down to just 28-of-71 (39.4 percent) shooting from the field. No thanks to Matias’ leech-like defense, Yap muffed nine of his 14 attempts in the two-point region.

“I guess Ronnie Matias just hustled his way to being the best player of this game,” noted Guiao of his forward who also hauled down five offensive rebounds. “I was a little disappointed when I first put him in. Nagkaroon siya ng defensive lapse at nakawala sa kanya twice si James. But when he came back after the half, he more than made up for his mistakes.”

Re-asserting its domination just like it did in its convincing 98-72 blowout on Christmas Day, Rain or Shine enjoyed a considerable 54-36 cushion early in the third, courtesy off an Arana triple.

The Mixers, however, refused to just roll over and die. With Yap, Simon ad Joe DeVance mainly providing the goods, they initially threatened within 64-70 with 5:54 remaining.

Off a steal, Larry Rodriguez converted a lay-up that restored RoS lead at 77-67 before SanMig Coffee uncorked its final seven-to-nothing counterattack, only to come up short in the crunch.

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