PAUL Lee hit the go-ahead shot while heavyweight big man Beau Belga delivered the game-clinching free throws to lead Rain or Shine to a nail-biting 94-89 victory over a fighting Meralco Bolts side in their PLDT myDSL-Philippine Cup match on Friday at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The E-Painters gained the early lead in the standings with a 2-0 record following the close win, a fitting follow-up to their 87-74 spanking of the Alaska Aces during Sunday’s season-opening game in Davao City.
“It’s a tough win for us. But we’re happy with the win,” said Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao. “I thought we really played bad today. Meralco forced us to really play a bad game, but it just so happened we made some threes at the crucial point and were able to make some crucial stops also.”
Lee’s three-point play pushed Rain or Shine ahead for good, 90-89 after Meralco managed to grab the upperhand several times during the final period behind Gary David and Rabeh Al-Hussaini.
The Bolts got a lucky break late in the game when the referees called a jumpball between Jervy Cruzand Meralco’s Mike Cortez even though the burly Rain or Shine big man had clear possession of the leather.
Even Guiao said he was surprised by the call, saying it would have changed the complexion of the game.
“We were caught by surprise with that jump ball. That would have cost us the game,” he said.
However, Cruz managed to tap the ball to Belga, who was immediately fouled by Cortez. Belga went on to nail two pressure-packed free throws, while Meralco’s late-game three-point attempt by Jared Dillinger totally missed the mark.
The 6’5” Belga sealed the outcome with two more free throws as he finished with a career-high tying 20 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists, while four other Rain or Shine logged 10 or more points in a balanced scoring attack.
Rookie center Raymond Almazan, this year's No. 3 pick overall, struggled in his first game as a pro, after going scoreless in a foul-plagued-14-minute performance.
Rain or Shine 94 - Belga 20, Arana 14, Rodriguez 13, Lee 12, Chan 11, Norwood 7, Cruz 6, Tang 5, Ibanes 3, Nuyles 2, Teng 1, Almazan 0.
Meralco 89 - David 24, Al-Hussaini 14, Hugnatan 11, Cortez 10, Wilson 10, Dillinger 8, Hodge 7, Guevarra 5, Salvacion 0, Allado 0, Mandani 0.
Quarters: 18-23, 38-41, 66-60, 94-89