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5 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Alaska (Game 2)
RoS leads the best-of-7
Game 1: RoS 105-97
Yeng Guiao doesn’t scare easy. But his heart skipped a beat when he saw big Pierre Henderson-Niles land on the right foot of a sprawled Paul Lee with 1:39 left in Game 1 of the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals Friday.
Not again, the Rain or Shine coach probably thought.
“It was a truly scary moment,” Guiao said minutes after the Elasto Painters held off the Alaska Aces, 105-97, to take the opener of the best-of-7 series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Lee stayed on the floor under the Alaska bench for a few moments, pressing on his foot and testing the joint’s rotator movement. Then he nodded and stood up slowly, walking nonchalantly to the RoS bench.
Guiao knew it could have been worse – Lee could have ended up with his foot broken and Henderson-Niles with his ankle severely sprained.
None of that happened, though, and Guiao, who arrived late for the pre-finals call-out after hitting the campaign trail in his hometown where he is seeking re-election as a congressman in the first district of Pampanga, heaved a sigh, especially after Lee buried an open 3-point shot from the left wing to put the E-Painters ahead, 99-94.
“This is just the right time for him to get his game back, championship time,” said Guiao of his prized playmaker.
“When everything was on the line, he made the big shot. He’s back to his role as the leader of this team.”
Guiao never got to say those words four years ago when Lee, on his rookie season, dislocated his left shoulder in Game 2 of the Governors’ Cup Finals against the B-Meg Llamados and sat out the rest of the best-of-7 series.
Instead, Guiao boldly predicted Rain or Shine will win the championship “with or without Paul Lee,” which the E-Painters eventually did in Game 7.
Against the Aces, Guiao may find no need for brash guarantees to fire up his ballclub. Lee, after all, appears fine.
More significantly, RoS seems impervious to Alaska’s main weapon throughout the conference – the full-court press.
In Game 1, the E-Painters committed one less turnover than the Aces, 14-13, and incredibly picked up 17 more points off those Alaska miscues, 27-10. Holding the Aces to 10 of 29 three-point shots and dominating the boards, 51-41, the E-Painters set their transition offense on fire with Maverick Ahanmisi and Jericho Cruz torching the pressure defense and reducing it to ashes.
As Guiao pointed out, Lee’s open 3-pointer was the direct result of RoS “breaking Alaska’s pressure defense.”
And that’s just one concern for Alaska to deal with.
There’s the subject of the Alaska locals, notably Calvin Abueva (4 of 13), RJ Jasul (1 of 5) and Dondon Hontiveros (1 of 5), stepping aside and letting import Rob Dozier battle Rain or Shine by himself.
Dozier was indeed spectacular, hitting 18 of 22 shots on the way to a career high 41 points to go with 15 rebounds, prompting Guiao to admit that “we were just waiting for him to miss because nothing seemed to work against him.”
The former Memphis standout had double figures in each of the first three quarters and he had 9 in the fourth against Henderson-Niles, his Tigers teammate along with Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose. But only two other Alaska players were in double figures to back up Dozier while RoS had four with 11 points or more to support Lee (20) and Cruz (18), negating JR Quiñahan’s 2-of-8 output and Jeff Chan’s 1 of 6.
Fueled by Cruz and Ahanmisi, the E-Painters also scorched the Aces in fast breaks, 17 points to 5, adding to Alaska’s woes going to Game 2 at 5 p.m. today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Everybody knows we want a fast game,” said Guiao. “But I think it will be a lot closer next game although I hope I’m wrong.”
Whipped badly underneath where RoS outscored the Aces, 44-32, in points in the paint and seized the upper hand in second chances production, 20 to 14, ready or not, Alaska may have to suit up recovering Vic Manuel and Eric Menk if only to relieve, even momentarily, Sonny Thoss (1 of 3) and Nonoy Baclao (3 of 7) from the heavy pounding inside courtesy of Henderson-Niles (3 of 7 with 13 rebounds), Beau Belga (6 of 8), Jewel Ponferada (3 of 5 with a 3-pointer) and Raymond Almazan (2 of 5).
Thoss picked up his fourth foul halfway in the second quarter and was a non-factor the rest of the game.