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Lee, Belga save the day for Rain or Shine, deny NLEX comeback win

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After blowing a 15 point lead in the third quarter and trailing by seven points late in the fourth quarter, the clutch heroics of top gunner Paul Lee and the suffocating defense of Beau Belga once again came in handy for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, who improve to 6-2 after denying the NLEX Road Warriors the comeback win, 94-93, Tuesday night at the Araneta Coliseum.

Lee, whose late game explosion erased the Road Warriors’ seven-point lead shortly before the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, had 27 points and 8 rebounds. Belga, the Elasto Painters’ hero on the defensive end, had 11 points.

Both teams opened the game with hot shooting, trading basket after basket, leading to numerous deadlocks throughout the quarter. An 8-3 rally kicked off by rookie Jericho Cruz late in the quarter gave the Elasto Painters the means to close out the period with a 25-19 lead.

A series of big baskets from Lee helped the Elasto Painters extend the lead to double digits halfway through the quarter. Lee and gunner Jonathan Uyloan collaborated late in the period to help the Elasto Painters lead by as many as 15 points, 57-42, before a triple from NLEX’s KG Canaleta trimmed the lead to 12, 57-45, shortly before the halftime buzzer.

The Road Warriors opened the second half on a high note, keeping the Elasto Painters scoreless for the first three minutes of the quarter to come within seven points of Rain or Shine. Things got physical halfway through the third, after NLEX’s Canaleta was called for an unsportsmanlike foul for an accidental clothesline trying to snatch the ball from Rain or Shine’s TY Tang. NLEX big man Asi Taulava was immediately slapped a technical foul for using profane language during the ensuing commotion. A minute of play later, NLEX’s Mac Cardona suffered a bad fall after being fouled by Rain or Shine enforcer Belga while driving to the basket. At the end of the third, Rain or Shine led by only nine points, 74-65.

Back-to-back treys from NLEX’s Canaleta and Wynne Arboleda and a stealthy lay-up from Jonas Villanueva to cap off an 11-3 run early in the quarter saw the Elasto Painters’ lead shredded to a single point, 77-76, with eight and half minutes left on the clock. A corner triple from Mark Borboran a minute later gave the Road Warriors their first lead since the first quarter, 79-77. Proving to be the quicker draw in the ensuing shootout, the Road Warriors entered the final two minutes with a sizeable 91-84 edge. The Elasto Painters were able to come within a manageable four points, 89-93, and forced Taulava to a turnover with 40 seconds left on the clock. A stealthy triple from national team standout Lee with 28.3 left on the clock suddenly saw the lead trimmed to a single digit, 92-93.

After forcing NLEX to miss what could have been another game-deciding shot, two successful free-throws from Lee with 21 seconds to go put the Elasto Painters back in the driver’s seat at 94-93. Belga denied NLEX the opportunity to steal the lead, and later split the free-throws awarded after corralling the miss to widen the gap by one more point, 95-93. Taulava once again got into position for the game-saver, but the ball was swatted by Belga, handing the Elasto Painters the win.

Villanueva led the Road Warriors with 22 points. The Elasto Painters hold on to the solo second spot, improving to 6-2, while NLEX slides to 3-5.

Photo by Nuki Sabio of PBA Images

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