ONCE was enough for Phoenix.
Rain or Shine denied the Fuel Masters another monumental comeback as it rolled to a 97-82 victory on Sunday for a rousing start to the year in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Facing a team that climbed from a 26-point hole to stun GlobalPort late December, the Elasto Painters saw a familiar rally by the Fuel Masters, but retaliated with a stronger finishing kick to coast to the win.
Jericho Cruz sparked the late surge for the E-Painters, who notched a second straight win and fifth overall in seven games to tighten their grip on second spot.
The E-Painters prevailed without injured standouts Raymond Almazan (foot) and Gabe Norwood (viral infection) as they handed the Fuel Masters their fourth loss in eight games.
“We just needed to start the year with a win,” RoS coach Caloy Garcia said. “Credit was to the players because they stepped up. I told them we shouldn’t rely on just one player. We needed to rely on the team.”
Cruz stood tallest, knocking down three straight three-pointers in a 52-second stretch that highlighted his team-high 21 points and gave the E-Painters another comfortable lead at 89-74 after the Fuel Masters pulled within nine points after trailing by as many as 21 points in the third.
Snipers Jeff Chan and James Yap also delivered with 12 and 10 points, respectively, while five others scored at least eight points in another balanced effort.
Matthew Wright paced the Fuel Masters with 26 points, including nine in the fourth quarter to lead his team’s rally that fell short.
Rain or Shine 97 – Cruz 21, Chan 12, Yap 10, Tolomia 9, Trollano 9, Washington 9, Matias 8, Ahanmisi 8, Tiu 6, Ponferada 3, Belga 2, Maiquez 0
Phoenix 82 – Wright 26, Intal 10, J. Wilson 10, Alolino 8, Baguio 8, Borboran 7, Torres 5, Enciso 3, Hayes 3, Caperal 2, W.Wilson 0, Lanete 0
Quarterscores: 30-20, 53-45, 78-61, 97-82