Rain or Shine not only refused becoming a footnote in Mahindra’s drive for franchise history, the Elasto Painters also dealt the Enforcers a beating no team has done so far in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
And the Painters did it with practically little help coming from their new import.
With five locals tossing in twin digits and recovering from a momentary loss of focus halfway through the fourth period on Friday night, Rain or Shine ripped Mahindra, 103-88, to get back in the running for a playoff berth in the season-closing conference at the Araneta Coliseum in Cubao.
“We know that we are a better team going all-Filipino,” coach Yeng Guiao told reporters after his Painters rose to a level 4-4 card and avoided being in the list of victims of Mahindra’s giant-killing run here. “We obviously knew we couldn’t depend on him (import Jason Forte) too much, because he arrived just a day ago.”
Forte, in his fourth tour of duty with a third PBA team, flew in on Thursday morning, turned in just one practice with the Painters and contributed 10 points and six rebounds in a 16-minute stint.
But Rain or Shine hardly showed ill effects of that, rebounding from the loss of an 18-point second quarter lead and easily erasing a three-point deficit midway through the fourth with a finishing kick that the Enforcers couldn’t come close to matching.
Raymond Almazan scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth, Jericho Cruz had seven of his 12 and Paul Lee six of his 12 in the same stretch as the Painters scooted away and dealt the Enforcers their worst beating in the conference.
Mahindra dropped to 6-3 and would need to sweep its last two games to assure itself of a twice-to-beat privilege in the quarterfinals.
The Rain or Shine defense also held down the prolific James White to just 16 points, with Aldrech Ramos going on to lead the Enforcers offensively with 17.
Eugene Phelps took charge when Phoenix Petroleum was on the verge of collapsing earlier in the night, finishing with 45 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Fuel Masters to a 106-93 victory over Star.
Shooting 15 of his total in the final frame, Phelps clearly stood out as the biggest factor in the Fuel Masters’ fourth win in eight starts that boosted their chances of clinching a playoff berth while at the same time dooming the star-studded Hotshots.
Star took a fifth straight loss right smack in the face after seeing its rally from 20 points down fall short. The Hotshots are now at 1-7 and are in grave danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 Commissioner’s Cup under Jorge Gallent.
Using the names of San Mig Coffee and Purefoods, the Star franchise has a streak of 15 consecutive playoff appearances, the second longest among active teams behind the 28 of sister team Barangay Ginebra.
Phoenix threatened to run away with the win early, erecting a 77-57 lead late in the third period with a sustained effort from late in the first quarter.
Star found some intensity after that, creeping within 77-76 after a 19-0 run only to lose steam the rest of the way as only three players scored in the fourth period for the Hotshots.
Cyrus Baguio backed Phelps up in the fourth with eight of his 11and Simon Enciso had his only field goal – a triple – at the height of the Phoenix breakaway in the dying minutes that helped seal the Hotshots’ doom.
“To tell you honestly, it was the first time that we led (any team) by 20 and we didn’t know what to do after that,” Phoenix coach Ariel Vanguardia said. “We were actually scared after leading by 20, because we have the highest respect for Star and we know that they can come back.”
Joel Wright, who came in as a replacement for Marqus Blakely four games into the conference, remained winless as Star import despite leading the team again with 29 points and 13 boards. He scored 11 in the fourth with only Marc Barroca and PJ Simon helping him out in that stretch.
Meanwhile, TNT KaTropa shoots for the win that would formalize a top four berth on Saturday when the Texters slug it out with defending champion San Miguel Beer in an out-of-town sortie in Batangas.
Tip-off is at 5 p.m. with the Texters also putting the solo lead on the line.
A win by TNT would give the Texters the first twice-to-beat bonus in the quarterfinals, which the Beermen are also going to try to accomplish by becoming just the second team to deal the tournament leaders a defeat here.