Star sweeps defending champ Rain or Shine, sets up semis with SMB
MANILA, Philippines – They prevailed in a blowout, then they still won it in a close back and forth.
The Star Hotshots continue to soar late in the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup, notching their 7th straight victory since the eliminations by dethroning defending champions Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 84-69, and reaching the semifinals on Wednesday, June 7, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Import Ricardo Ratliffe put up a monster effort of 26 points and 24 rebounds, plus 5 assists and a block as Star followed up a lopsided game 1 victory with a composed and strong closeout in game 2.
Paul Lee and Mark Barroca added 13 and 12 markers, respectively, in a low-scoring affair that still favored the defensive-minded Hotshots, who hung tough despite the stark shift from the free-flowing pace of game 1.
Star and Rain or Shine had been grinding for every shot since the opening minutes. But the Hotshots came loose offensively in the fourth quarter and engineered a deciding 21-6 run to end the game, breaking from a 63-all deadlock with just under 8 minutes left to play.
"We expected a grinding game," said head coach Chito Victolero. "Told my players it's a different story in game 2. My players never gave up. Napakasama ng shooting percentage namin, sabi ko sa kanila papasok 'yan, naging positive lang kami buong game (We had horrible shooting percentage, so I assured them the shots will fall, we just stayed positive the entire game)."
Star out-rebounded Rain or Shine, 57-39, and dominated in second chance points, 16-4.
Import Duke Crews was the only Painter in double figures with just 12 points to go with 5 rebounds as he played just over 22 minutes while battling foul trouble.
The Painters' offense had sputtered since game 1 of the best-of-3 quarterfinals and they exited the playoffs early for the second straight conference, during a rebuilding season sans former champion coach Yeng Guiao and star guard Paul Lee, who now plays for Star.
James Yap, Lee's counterpart in that big one-on-one swap, had a quiet night of just 3 points on one-of-5 shooting for Rain or Shine.
Jeff Chan and Chris Tiu added 9 points apiece while Gabe Norwood chipped in 6 markers, including a last-gasp 3-pointer approaching the final two minutes that cut the lead to 9.
Star, which is experiencing a resurgence this year under Chito Victolero, will now face the San Miguel Beermen in a best-of-5 semifinals series.
Star (84): Ratliffe 26, Lee 13, Barroca 12, Simon 9, Sangalang 8, Jalalon 8, Reavis 4, Ramos 2, Maliksi 2, Melton 0.
Rain or Shine (69): Crews 12, Chan 9, Tiu 9, Belga 7, Washington 7, Norwood 6, Ahanmisi 6, Cruz 4, Ponferada 4, Yap 3, Almazan 2.
Quarter scores: 16-19, 33-37, 55-52, 84-69.