By JONAS TERRADO
Rain or Shine spoiled the debut of newcomer Converge by taking a 79-77 victory as the season-opening PBA Philippine Cup got underway Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Beau Belga hit a stepback three with 13 seconds left to put the Elasto Painters ahead by a point before forcing Jeron Teng to turn the ball over on the next play to deny the FiberXers a winning start to their maiden foray in the big league.
The Elasto Painters prevailed despite a hard-fought encounter against the FiberXers, who led by seven twice in the fourth before making a comeback.
But the result is something coach Chris Gavina would take, given how Rain or Shine slumped to a 10th place finish in the Governors’ Cup.
“With the way we ended last conference on a low note and not making the playoffs, it was extremely important for us to come out and be able to get this tough, gritty win against a young Converge team,” said Gavina.
Santillan opened his sophomore campaign in a big way with 18 points and nine rebounds for the Elasto Painters, Belga scored 17 while Andrei Caracut and Rey Nambatac added 10 apiece.
Teng produced 23 points while second-year guard Alec Stockton nailed a career-high 13 points but Converge couldn’t get the win.
Stockton’s eight fourth quarter points put the FiberXers ahead 69-62 and 73-66. But Caracut, Nambatac and Santillan sparked the rally and put the Elasto Painters in front 75-73, 1:37 left on the game clock.
RK Ilagan hit two foul shots and Teng scored using his left hand, which earlier needed treatment after getting hurt during a scramble, as Converge retook the lead, 77-75 with 23 seconds remaining.
Belga, however, answered with his three off rookie Jeo Ambohot to make it 78-77 for ROS. Teng tried to pass the ball after being double-teamed, but Nambatac deflected the ball which resulted in Santillan retrieving possession and getting fouled in the process.
In the second game, TNT bucked the absence of Rookie of the Year Mikey Williams to defeat Magnolia Chicken Timplados, 78-72, to likewise begin its title defense on a bright note.
The Tropang Giga leaned on Troy Rosario and Jayson Castro in the fourth quarter of the contest marred by cold shooting from both sides and claim victory to begin the 47th season.
With Williams out due to ongoing negotiations between him and TNT management, coach Chot Reyes said his team had to rely on defense in order to win over the team it faced in last year’s All-Filipino Finals in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Also out was the injured Kelly Williams, who was earlier named to the All-Defensive Team, forcing the Tropang Giga to scrap their way against the Hotshots.
“It was a matter of grinding it out, hankering down on defense and it’s a matter of grit, make stop after stop and, thankfully in the crucial moments, we were able to pull it out,” said Reyes.
Rosario, who revealed testing positive for Covid-19 after the campaign in the Vietnam Southeast Asian Games, topscored with 22 points while grabbing 10 rebounds for TNT.
Castro made 13 of his 16 in the fourth, including some crucial baskets that enabled TNT to see off Magnolia.
His three-pointer with four minutes left gave TNT a 68-66 lead after spending most of the second half within striking distance of Magnolia.
RAIN OR SHINE 79 — Santillan 18, Belga 17, Carcut 10, Torres 10, Nieto 8, Nambatac 8, Asistio 5, Norwood 3, Tolentino 0, Ponferrada 0, Mamuyac 0, Ildefonso 0, Borboran 0.
CONVERGE 77 — Teng 23, Stockton 13, Ilagan 10, Ambohot 7, Arana 6, Adamos 5, Hill 5, DiGregorio 4, Bulanadi 2, Lojera 2, Tolomia 0, Racal 0.
Quarters: 16-19, 31-38, 57-55, 79-77.
TNT 78 — Rosario 22, Castro 16, Khobuntin 9, Pogoy 8, Ganuelas-Rosser 6, Erram 5, Montalbo 3, Cruz 2, Reyes 2, Marcelo 2, Banal 0, Tungcab 0.
MAGNOLIA 72 — Sangalang 18, Barroca 14, Jalalon 12, Abueva 12, Reavis 5, Lee 4, Wong 4, Dionisio 3, Corpuz 0, Laput 0, Dela Rosa 0.
Quarters: 22-21, 42-42, 53-55, 78-72.