CAN Rain or Shine do a Ginebra?
That's the only question left to be answered in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals after Rain or Shine lost another close game to San Mig on Friday night, 90-93, to fall to a 1-3 hole in the season-opening finale.
If the Painters and coach Yeng Guiao hope to win a first-ever all-Filipino title, they have to pull off a feat which only one team has done in the finals in the 39-year history of Asia's first pro league.
That team was Ginebra, which did the improbable by coming back from 1-3 down to beat Shell in the First Conference Finals behind Rudy Distrito's off-balanced jumper in the dying seconds of Game Seven.
Watch a YouTube video of that historic play:
Guiao, defiant as ever, said Rain or Shine is capable of mirroring that epic achievement as he drew some parallels between his team and Robert Jaworski's former Ginebra squads.
Like Ginebra before them, Guiao said the Elasto Painters are a rugged, resolute bunch made up of scrappy players who are not necessarily superstars in the pro league but shine in their own right.
Guiao also believed the Painters possess the same never-say-die spirit that made Jaworski's Ginebra teams the most popular in the league during their time.
“They (Rain or Shine players) have the same never-say-die spirit,” said Guiao on the eve of their make-or-break Game Five match-up against San Mig at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“No doubt, my boys don’t give up. Kahit ngayon down kami ng 1-3, the consensus ng team is hindi namin bibitawan ito. Ilalaban namin hanggat may pagasa,” the fiery coach added.
Guiao also admitted that Jaworski is one of his favorite players growing up, having watched the 'Big J' since his days with the old Meralco balllcub in the Micaa that he may have unwittingly picked up some of Jaworski's style as a coach.
“Isa si Jawo sa mga paborito ko. Wala akong conscious effort na kopyahin siya, pero subconciously nakukuha ko," the Rain or Shine coach said. "Bata pa lang kasi ako, wala pa siya sa Ginebra, wala pa siya sa Toyota, nasa Meralco pa lang siya, pinapanood ko na s'ya."
Guiao, in fact, takes pride in having seen unheralded players shine under his watch, just like Jaworski.
“Tama ka, 'yung pag-develop ko at pag-motivate ng players, very Jaworki 'yun. Ganun halos ang style niya di ba sa paghahasa ng players,” added the first-term representative of Pampanga first district.
One of the top players on those iconic Ginebra teams, Chito Loyzaga, said he believes Rain or Shine has what it takes to duplicate that 1991 achievement - so long as the Painters stay tough mentally.
“I saw (the Painters') games, those were close losses. So they have to have the mental toughness during the crucial minutes of the game. And they should not give up,” said Loyzaga.
“Until they hear the final buzzer, trabaho at buhos lahat," he added.
The son of the great Caloy 'Big Difference' Loyzaga, however, stopped short of comparing the two ballclubs, saying he sees two essential ingredients missing from Rain or Shine.
One is a spiritual leader on the court, much like Ginebra's player-coach Jaworski back then.
"Ang kulang kasi sa Rain or Shine siguro ngayon, dapat may spiritual leader sila. Ito yung tao na magra-rally sa kanila parang si Big J noong araw,” he said, pointing to Gabe Norwood and Paul Lee as the two players who have the potential to fill that role for the Painters.
Unless Norwood and Lee step up, Loyzaga said Rain or Shine will always struggle against an experienced San Mig team, more so in games that go down to the wire.
“Lumalabas talaga yung championship experience ng San Mig, may James Yap, Peter June Simon at Marc Pingris sila eh. They’ve been there, they know what to do,” said Loyzaga.
“But perhaps, ang maganda sa Rain or Shine, wag silang didikit sa San Mig. If they want to win the game, they have to be up by six or eight points, para may cushion sila. Kasi 'pag dikitan, lalabas yung experience ng kabila."
But one thing sorely lacking in Rain or Shine's crusade, Loyzaga was sorry to say, is crowd support.
“I am sorry pero wala sila nun - and that is the crowd," said the former UAAP commissioner. "Ginebra’s crowd, as we all know, is huge. Dun kami talaga kumukuha ng lakas ng loob noon.”
Still, Guiao is determined to rally the Elasto Painters back from the grave, starting in Game Five.
“Tomorrow we will try to win the game and reverse the momentum, hindi kami nawawalan ng pagasa," he said. “Siguro yun ang isang liwanag na nakikita ko para isipin na kaya rin namin yung ginawa ng Ginebra nuong araw sa Shell.”