E-Painters hold off Wright, Phoenix to stay in contention for coveted seat

September 13, 2017

RAIN or Shine simply had more Gilas players than Phoenix -- and it showed.

Raymond Almazan and Gabe Norwood picked up from where J'Nathan Bullock left off to lift the Elasto Painters to a 116-111 victory Wednesday that gave them a quarterfinals seat while booting out the Fuel Masters in the PBA Governors Cup at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

Bullock notched a PBA career-high 33 points anchored on 7-for-12 three-point shooting while Jericho Cruz also had a big hand in the endgame where the E-Painters were trying to keep the Fuel Masters at bay.

That was when Almazan and Norwood came to the rescue with some crucial plays each inside the last minute, negating fellow national player Matthew Wright's explosive game and enabling Rain or Shine to finally put away its opponent.

Norwood capped a personal conference-high 17 points with a two-handed followup jam off Almazan's miss to make it 115-110, before Almazan sealed his own tournament-best 25 points and 11 rebounds with an offensive board and charity that made it a safe 116-111 count.

For good measure, Almazan blocked Brown's last-gasp drive.

As a result, the E-Painters emerged with their fifth victory in eight games that assured their entry in the last eight and lodged them at fifth-running spot.

More victories aganst Barangay Ginebra on Saturday, Alaska next Wednesday and Blackwater on Sept. 23 and Rain or Shine could even gain inclusion among the top four teams which will be rewarded with a twice-to-beat advantage each in the next round.

Winning Coach Caloy Garcia was simply glad his charges were able to hold off a Phoenix team that refused to give up despite falling behind by 18 early and engaged his in a back-and-forth game in the second half.

"Lucky that we won the game," said Garcia. "I felt that in the third quarter our energy was not there. We started the game well, our import was aggressive. If we want to make it farther in this conference we have to check our mistakes in the third quarter.

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"Going up against tougher teams like Ginebra we can't really relax a bit."

The Fuel Masters' worthiest game in a long while all went for naught as they absorbed an eighth straight loss notwithstanding Wright scoring 36 points and Brandon Brown adding 33 and 20 rebounds.

Even if Phoenix, which now totes a 2-8 slate, wins its last game against Sa Miguel Beer next Wednesday, it still wouldn't be enough to get it to the next round as it joined winless Kia as the first teams to be taken out of the quarterfinals race.

Not after Phoenix puts up a gallant stand that saw it come charging back from an 89-102 deficit in the fourth quarter. RJ Jazul, Brown and Wright were at the forefront of that attack that whittled the deficit to just 99-102.

Cruz, who had a lively interchange with Wright since they had a little scrum in the second period, buried a triple but that was negated right back by the Fil-Canadian's seventh trey that kept the Fuel Masters within 106-110.

Maverick Ahanmisi's drive and Bullock's charity split kept the E-Painters ahead 113-108, but Brown's own freebies kept the Fuel Masters within three, still 69 ticks left.

The tight ending and Garcia's concerns were brought about by Wright, who scored 17 of his points in the third period, and Brown, who scattered 10 of his own, to raze Rain or Shine's 45-61 lead.

Wright capped his explosion with a triple to give Phoenix an 84-83 lead, but Norwood's dunk gave Rain or Shine the edge going to the final 12 minutes of play.

Bullock, whose previous high was 22 points, already had 24 at the half with 16 of those coming in the opening quarter before the likes of Almazan, James Yap and Cruz came in to stretch their lead to a high of 54-36.