YENG Guiao never expected his team to be in contention for a top-two spot and a twice-to-beat incentive this late in the PBA Philippine Cup elimination.
Already with one of the shortest lineups going into the season, Rain or Shine also had to start the campaign without last season's Rookie of the Year Paul Lee and saw the only major addition to its team in the offseason, Chris Tiu, go down with an injury right on his pro debut.
“Kung nandiyan lang si Paul and he’s healthy, puwede ko sabihin sa simula siguro na lalaban kami sa top two," Guiao told Spin.ph. "I expected the team to be in the top four, but to fight for the top two is a bit of a surprise.”
But the strength of Rain or Shine - and most Guiao teams for that matter - is that they have never been too dependent on one man. So while Lee remained unavailable as he recovered from shoulder surgery, Guiao has seen a host of players rise to the occasion and fill the void.
No one has stepped up more than Jeff Chan, who, his confidence bolstered by his stint with Smart Gilas, is now averaging 18.25 points in the Philippine Cup - fourth in that department behind Meralco’s Sol Mercado (21.4 ppg.), Barangay Ginebra’s Mark Caguioa (19.45 ppg.) and San Mig Coffee’s James Yap (18.27 ppg.).
But it was not just Chan who has stepped up for Guiao. There, too, were overweight big men Beau Belga and JR Quinahan as well as undersized forward Jervy Cruz, who is the team’s second leading scorer with 11.25 points per game while emerging as its top rebounder with 9.08 boards (No. 2 rebounder overall this conference).
Belga and Quinahan are hitting 9.33 and 9.75 points a game, respectively.
“Strength talaga ng team yung cohesiveness, they have been bonding together. And kita naman siguro, because many times, kung may ibang masama ang laro, may iba ring nagi-step up,” Guiao said.
Still, Guiao is looking forward to the day when he can finally unleash his Lee-thal Weapon.
Lee has been doing drills the past weeks as he continues to rehabilitate the dislocated shoulder he sustained last season. The former UE Red Warrior is expected to join the team’s five-on-five training in about two weeks’ time, and should be available to give Rain or Shine’s playoffs hopes a boost.
“We’re hoping na makabalik na si Paul. Sa ngayon kasi, he’s about 220 pounds. If we could bring his weight down to about 215 pounds, I think he can do well. Kaya ngayon, he’s doing a lot more work,” said Guiao.