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PBA: E-Painters shoot for 2-0 lead

RainOrShine's Jervy Cruz (on the floor) and Paul Lee battle for the loose ball against Meralco's Mike Cortez during PBA action at Smart Araneta Coliseum.    Photo by Tony Pionilla

Game Today (Smart Araneta Colieum)
5 p.m. – Meralco vs Rain or Shine

Game Tomorrow
(Smart Araneta Colieum)
7 p.m. – Purefoods vs Talk ’N Text

Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao is aware of the subplot for Game 2: This will be an Easter the Meralco Bolts will either celebrate or lament.
And he is not likely to be part of any revelation unless it involves the Elasto Painters.

After going through a wringer before pulling off a Game 1 victory over the Bolts in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series, Guiao isn’t about to mess around with the “resurrection” theme surrounding today’s pivotal outing.

“As I’ve said, it was just the first game. Of course, it’s a good thing we won, but this is far from over. The long break gave them time to make adjustments and prepare,” said Guiao.

Game time is at 5 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with the E-Painters looking to move within a win of advancing to the best-of-7 championship series and the Bolts seeking to equalize.

Rain or Shine dodged the bullet, 99-86, in the series opener last Tuesday as import Wayne Chism had 18 points and 14 rebounds, battling trouble and pain on his left knee, while Paul Lee – a Best Player of the Conference (BPC) contender – added 14 points.

The winning margin didn’t tell half of the story, with ROS breaking away only in the fourth quarter.

The PBA took a break in observance of the Lenten season, and the two squads took advantage of the short sabbatical.

Meralco rested on Holy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday but returned to practice on Good Friday and Black Saturday, working feverishly to find answers to questions that gripped them in Game 1.

“Definitely a must win situation for us,” said Bolts coach Norman Black. “The last thing you want to do is go down 0-2 in a best-of-five series. Hopefully we have tasted what it feels like to be in the semifinals and we will respond better with more energy in Game 2.”

Black noted specific areas they will have to work on.

“Things we have to do well remain the same. We must slow down their fast breaks and do a better job versus their pick and roll offense,” said Black after Rain or Shine routed them in transition, 26-2.

The Elasto Painters dictated nearly every statistical aspect of Game 1, especially the war in the trenches.

Meralco did control the rebounding department (49-35), but Guiao’s squad dominated the shaded lane, 50 points to 30.

The 20-point deficit proved too big to overcome for the Bolts down the stretch.

Rain or Shine’s bench also outclassed its Meralco counterparts, 50-27, as rookie Jericho Cruz, Gabe Norwood, Chris Tiu, Raymond Almazan and Jeric Teng combined for 41 points.

Meralco’s points came from its starters as all five scored in double digits, with reinforcement Josh Davis collecting 11 points and 15 boards, Gary David 14 markers, Cliff Hodge 13, and Mike Cortez and Reynel Hugnatan 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Two scoreless spells early in the last quarter negated their balanced scoring however.

One player that Guiao said might play a factor in the series is ROS sniper Jeff Chan, who logged in just five minutes all in the first half and missed his single attempt from the three-point area.

Guiao quickly dismissed speculations as to why Chan was a cameo in Game 1.

According to Guiao, Chan wasn’t “one hundred percent” as he was bothered by pain on his legs. Chan was present during the team’s practice sessions Thursday and yesterday but only did some light shooting.

“It’s depends on Jeff. If there is pain, we might rest him (in Game 2). So others must step up again if he won’t play,” said Guiao.

Another thing that concerns Guiao is the officiating.

He cited a crucial three-point basket by Gabe Norwood at the shot clock buzzer in the fourth quarter that was nullified after being counted by referee Art Herrera, who has been suspended by PBA commissioner Chito Salud.

“They should get themselves in one room and talk about what they can do about officiating,” said Guiao.

The winner of this series will face the team that emerges from the Purefoods-Talk ‘N Text semis, which the defending champion Hotshots lead, 1-0.

An interesting sidelight in the series is ROS star playmaker Paul Lee’s hunt for the Best Player of the Conference award.

Currently ranked third behind San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo and TNT’s Jayson Castro, Lee is on a blazing pace after scoring 14 points against the Bolts at the start of the semis.

And with Fajardo and SMB knocked out in the eliminations and Castro struggling along with the Tropang Texters, Lee appears to have a clear shot at claiming the honor.

“Siguro dahil nandyan na (No. 3 in BPC race) yung chance, pagta-trabahuhin ko siya lalo saka paghuhusayan ko,” Lee told Spin.ph. “Mas tutulungan ko manalo ang team, pero uunahin ko muna yung team.” (With report from Tito Talao)