by Waylon Gavlez
Manila, Philippines – Top seed Petron Blaze came through with a decisive run early in the third quarter to score a huge 110-89 victory over Rain or Shine and advance to the finals of the PBA Governors’ Cup last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Petron Blaze import Elijah Millsap led the team in scoring with 34 points, while Marcio Lassiter backed him up with a career-high 27 points off the bench highlighted by seven three-pointers with 12 rebounds.
With their Game 4 win, the Boosters arranged a best-of-seven Finals showdown against the San Mig Coffee Mixers – their sister team who won in the other semifinal series against the Meralco Bolts – starting Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
“I give credit to the Rain or Shine organization they pushed us to the limit,” said Petron Blaze rookie coach Gee Abanilla, who was pulled out as coach of De La Salle University to replace Olsen Racela prior to the start of the season-ending conference.
Petron won their best-of-three series, 3-1.
It was just a six-point lead by the Boosters at halftime break, but Millsap and Alex Cabagnot, who contributed 23 points with eight assists, joined hands in a telling 16-0 blast by scoring eight points apiece that gave them a 62-40 lead with 9:19 left in the third period.
A triple by Millsap gave Petron Blaze its largest lead in the game at 25 points, 70-45.
However, by the end of the third period, Rain or Shine trimmed the deficit to 15 points (80-65), and even cut the deficit to 10 points, 80-70, early in the fourth quarter when JR Quinahan nailed a trey and import Arizona Reid converted a jumper.
But the sweet-shooting Lassiter answered back by burying back-to-back triples, 86-70, with 9:42 left in the game.
The last time the Elasto Painters threatened was when Reid made a three-pointer that trimmed the deficit anew to 10 points, 89-79.
But Lassiter rose to the occasion again as he buried a booming triple to make it 92-79.
“Right now we’re living the dream we can never stop, that’s the essence of sports. That’s why we have to keep on competing,” said Abanilla, whose team had a franchise record 11-game winning streak until Rain or Shine snapped it with a win in Game 3 (92-87).
The Petron Blaze franchise is in the PBA Finals for the 27th time, although it was the team’s first since 2001 when it won the same Governors’ Cup under coach Ato Agustin. The team will be gunning for its 20th overall championship.