MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Meralco Bolts didn’t have Jared Dillinger. Then they lost import Josh Davis. And if those weren’t bad enough, they also fell into an early 29-11 deficit.
Meralco had no business sticking around with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in game 3 of their semifinal series on Tuesday, April 7. But they did thanks to key contributions from their veterans. They fought until the very last minute of the last quarter.
Although when the dust settled, the superior and more talented squad came out on top.
“We had to keep ourselves tough throughout the whole series,” said Rain or Shine head coach Yeng Guiao, whose team swept the Bolts 3-0 in the semis.
“[Meralco] will be a better team next year or next conference just with the experience they had this playoffs.”
The Elasto Painters beat the Bolts, 107-98, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to advance to the Commissioner’s Cup finals, where they will face either the Purefoods Star Hotshots or Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters. It’s the franchise’s third finals appearance in the past five conferences, and fifth in the last nine.
Paul Lee made a strong case again for the Best Player of the Conference Award with 23 points and 6 assists in just 26.5 minutes. Import Wayne Chism, who scored just two points in the first two quarters, finished just 3 assists shy of a triple double with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 dimes.
“We got a really big break with their import not being able to play,” Guiao said about Davis, who was ruled out with a dislocated shoulder. “It’s just too bad that they really had a chance in this series and the scores doesn’t reflect how difficult a series this was.”
“Our import came in at the right time,” Guiao said about Chism. “I think we only lost one game with Wayne Chism (this conference), so he just proved that we made the right decision bringing him in and getting him back again after last year.”
A 15-0 run spearheaded by Lee and Ryan Araña allowed the Elasto Painters to race off to an early lead that heightened to 29-11 near the end of the first quarter.
The Bolts stormed back thanks to timely three-pointers by veteran Mark Macapagal, who finished with 20 points on 4 triples. Meralco then torched Rain or Shine’s defense in the second period for 31 points, leading to a 52-49 lead at the half.
Led by Raymond Almazan, who registered 13 of his 14 markers in the third frame, Rain or Shine re-took control of the ball game and built a 10-point lead entering the final quarter.
Macapagal air balls a 3, leading to an Almazan fast break basket. #rstream pic.twitter.com/lrc7V1IJJS — Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) April 7, 2015
Both teams exchanged baskets for most of the final 12 minutes. A Lee floater with under 4 minutes left extended his club’s edge back to double digits. Afterwards, Beau Belga hit an open triple to make the count 107-94 and seal the game.
Paul Lee's floater extends ROS' lead to double digits with less than 4 minutes to go. #rstream pic.twitter.com/5hh2o95oTo — Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) April 7, 2015
“This is an accomplishment, an improvement of what we’ve done last year,” said Guiao, whose team lost to the Purefoods Star Hotshots (then known as the San Mig Coffee Mixers) in each of their finals appearances last season.
“Now we just need to wait and prepare for the results of the other series. But having finished the series earlier, I think those extra two or three days of rest are going to be very helpful going into the finals.”
Two days after making a PBA season-best 19 three-pointers, Rain or Shine converted 11 despite missing Jeff Chan (leg) for a third straight match. Meralco hit 9 three-pointers of their own to match their opponents, but allowed them 26 fastbreak points.
Araañ and Norwood combined to score 22 for Rain or Shine, who also got 7 points each from Belga and Chris Tiu.
Cliff Hodge finished with 20 points, 13 boards, and 4 assists to lead the Bolts, who, after starting the conference with 5 straight wins finished just 3-8. Reynel Hugnatan also played well with 19 markers, while Sean Anthony put up 14 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.
Mike Cortez registered 11 points and joined the PBA's 5,000 points-scorers club with a jumper in the second half.
RAIN OR SHINE (107) - Lee 23, Chism 16, Almazan 14, Arana 12, Norwood 10, Uyloan 8, Tiu 7, Belga 7, Ibanes 2, Teng 2, Cruz Jericho 2, Cruz Jervy 2, Quinahan 2, Tang 0
MERALCO (98) - Hodge 20, Macapagal 20, Hugnatan 19, Anthony 14, Cortez 11, Caram 4, Wilson 3, Ildefonso 3, Sena 2, Ferriols 2, David 0
Quarter Scoring: 31-21, 49-52, 84-74, 107-98