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PBA: Mental toughness keeps ROS afloat

Painters, Texters clash in Game 3 at Big Dome

Jason CastroGame Today (Smart Araneta)
5 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Talk ‘N Text

Talk ‘N Text point guard Jayson Castro doesn’t realize it yet, but by scoring an incredible 44 points in Game 2 Friday he may have just done Rain or Shine one big, morale-boosting favor.

The irony of the situation and the unintended consequence of Castro’s offensive explosion in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals two nights ago are not lost on ROS coach Yeng Guiao.

“This gives us great confidence,” said Guiao after ROS levelled the best-of-7 championship series by coming back from double digits down to beat TNT, 116-108. “If we can survive a 27-point onslaught by Jayson in the first half and overcome a 17-point deficit, you know you can play with the best.”

Such awareness could prove invaluable to the Elasto Painters as the series moves on, with Game 3 set at 5 p.m. today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and the Tropang Texters hoping to put behind bitter thoughts over how they squandered a rare opportunity and allowed ROS to climb out of what had looked like a 0-2 hole.

The E-Painters have a lot of things to be thankful for.

Not only did they survive Castro’s phenomenal outside shooting, which saw the former Philippine Christian University stalwart bury 9 three-point shots to erase Robert Jaworski’s 35-year-old record of 8 triples in the finals, the E-Painters also overcame a big scare when star playmaker Paul Lee went down with a right ankle sprain late in the first quarter.

In eerily familiar circumstances, Lee – who dislocated his left shoulder in Game 2 of the 2012 Governors’ Cup Finals against B-Meg (Purefoods) which forced him to sit out the rest of the series as the E-Painters went on to win their first PBA title – limped back to the bench after crashing to the floor following a hard drive.

He played just six minutes in the second quarter when TNT built its 17-point margin and all of two and a half minutes in the third when Wayne Chism led an ROS fightback to wrest the upper hand, 85-84.

But with the game on the line and Castro, his main rival for the Best Player of the Conference award, still in flames, Lee returned to action and scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, teaming up with Chism and the ubiquitous Jireh Ibanes, who forced Castro to miss 6 of his last 10 shots, in making a gallant final stand.

“Our mental toughness is what got us through,” said Guiao, who rarely doles out specific accolades to his players but made an exception this time for Ibanes. “And Jireh deserves special mention.”

Their improved free throw shooting and less sloppy ball-handling also were instrumental in getting the E-Painters through.

After going 18 of 33 from the foul line and turning the ball over 17 times in a 99-92 loss in Game 1 last Wednesday, ROS shot 17 of 20 in Game 2 and committed just 9 errors to TNT’s 16.

“This is a good sign,” said Guiao. “A nice ice-breaker, this is all we needed.”

The Texters may have to find someone, along with Castro, to send ROS back in deep freeze although TNT coach Jong Uichico would hear none of it.

Uichico brushed off suggestions Castro, as awesome as his numbers were, may have exercised too much freedom with his field goal attempts.

“I don’t think so,” said Uichico when asked whether he felt the Texters became too dependent on their ace point guard in Game 2.

Castro launched 23 shots to the 15 he took in finishing with 14 points behind Ranidel de Ocampo (24) and Ivan Johnson (23) in the opener. De Ocampo took the backseat in Game 2 with 15 points while Johnson, recently fined R150,000 for knocking down Guiao in Game 1, was also a little off from his initial numbers with 20.

Nonetheless, both Johnson and De Ocampo took practically the same number of attempts as in Game 1, revealing comparatively lower shooting percentages. Also missing were the contributions of veteran Kelly Williams (2 points), who took just 3 shots after taking 11 in the opener, and Jay Washington, benched for yet undetermined reason.

Questions abound heading to Game 3.

Will TNT continue to grant Castro as wide a latitude in offense as in Game 2 or will the Texters revert to the formula which proved successful in Game 1, using Castro more as a facilitator to spread out the ROS defense and make it more vulnerable?

Will Johnson regain his fiery form after turning up meek in Game 2? And what of Washington, who mysteriously rode the bench last Friday?

On ROS’ side, Lee’s ankle sprain poses a big problem for the E-Painters, who nevertheless showed they can turn it on when they want to in specific moments – as in the third quarter – even with their gifted playmaker on the bench.

Is Lee’s injury not as grave as feared? Or will the specter of the 2012 Governors’ Cup Finals loom over the E-Painters with the former University of the East star hobbled?

The answers just as night falls over the Big Dome. Or until Jayson Castro catches fire again.