Manila, Philippines – Yeng Guiao, the Rain or Shine coach, knows a little about racehorses, especially those who burst out of the starting gate like a bolt, build a sizable lead at the backstretch only to fade against fierce challenge at the final turn.
He recognizes the telltale signs, senses the gradual deceleration, notices the minute changes. Guiao, owner and breeder of champion thoroughbreds, knows all that to be absolutely certain the Elasto Painters don’t belong in that category.
“Hindi naman,” Guiao said on the phone yesterday morning on his way to team practice at the NEGA gym in Greenhills.
Guiao was asked whether he sees in the Elasto Painters a sprinter with blinding speed but no endurance to finish strong in a long race.
“No, I don’t. Ang problema namin is our lack of mental toughness; it’s more psychological than physical,” said Guiao. “We have the ability to build leads but not the ability to keep it. It’s a mental predicament.”
A dilemma the Alaska Aces had exploited in taking a 3-2 lead in their best-of-7 semifinals in the PBA Philippine Cup, fighting back from a 17-point deficit in Game 1 and from 19 points down in Game 5 and throwing Rain or Shine to the outside track as they thunder for home.
Old habits, Guiao said, seem to manifest in the series.
“Parang kumpiyansa masyado, We’re thinking we’ve been through this before and we can pull it off anytime; that we can turn on the switch when we want to. Tapos pag step sa gas pedal, walang acceleration. And against a team like Alaska, once you lower your guard, they can seize the initiative.”
Nevertheless, Guiao believed that despite their tendency to slacken off at a most crucial stage of the game, the E-Painters are still up to the challenge.
“We just need to play well in the end, protect our lead if we have one, hit our free throws, make defensive stops, get extra possessions and draw from our experience in previous semis and finals,” he said.
One big factor the E-Painters have to reckon with, Guiao admitted, is the burning energy Calvin Abueva brings to the Aces.
“It’s just contagious,” he said. “When you see your teammate putting that much energy into the game, talagang madadala ka. In that aspect, malaking factor si Calvin.”
Guiao expects his veterans to come up with as much competitive fire.
“Sila lang naman talaga ang aasahahan e,” he said.
The long holiday break before Game 6 on Jan. 4, when Alaska shoots for the right to challenge San Miguel Beer in the Finals, favors neither the Aces nor his team, Guiao said, contrary to what Aces coach Alex Compton offered after Game 5.
“Parehas lang kami. Sila nga ang pressure ng pressure e, so kahit papano nakakapahinga rin sila di ba? The rest will do both teams good since they’ll be able to prepare. Walang advantage or disadvantage either way,” he said.
And the prospects of forcing a Game 7?
“That’s all we want,” Guiao said. “Pag andon na, tossup na yon e, parang flip of the coin.”
A dead heat? Nothing could be more thrilling, But Rain or Shine has to catch Alaska first.