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Lee catches fire; tows Rain or Shine to semis sweep over undermanned Meralco



Powered by another thrilling performance from Paul Lee and the clutch composure of their frontcourt warriors, the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters thwarted what could have been a major turnaround by the Meralco Bolts to take the 107-98 victory in game three of their semifinals, and book the first finals ticket in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Meralco opened the first quarter with back-to-back baskets to build a 4-0 lead, but the tides would change in a heartbeat. The sweet shooting backcourt duo of Ryan Araña and Paul Lee sank bucket after bucket in a 13-0 blitz that gave Rain or Shine control of the game by the halfway point of the quarter. The Elasto Painters led by as many as nineteen, shooting four-of-five from the three-point line. At the end of the period, they led 31-21, escaping a late Meralco rally.

Baskets from Cliff Hodge early in the second helped the Bolts come within single digits, 25-33. Free throws from Beau Belga made it a 10-point game again, but Meralco’s Anjo Caram, Sean Anthony and Mark Macapagal collaborated for seven straight points to cut the deficit to three. The rally was doused by Rain or Shine’s Jonathan Uyloan with a triple to make it a six-point game. The Bolts however kept their push alive, and with around five minutes left in the half, a jumper from Mike Cortez knotted the score at 38-all. A layup from Reynel Hugnatan made it Meralco ball, 40-38, but Rain or Shine’s Belga responded on the other end to knot the game anew. A late explosion from Macapagal helped the Bolts lead by as many as five late in the quarter, and at the half, they led 52-49.

The Bolts controlled the momentum as they held on to the lead early in the third quarter. A triple from Gabe Norwood four minutes into the quarter gave the lead back to RoS, 63-62. The reenergized Rain or Shine squad regained their foothold, once again able to respond to the heated Meralco salvo. The Elasto Painters found their much needed spark in Raymond Almazan, who exploded for 13 late points in the quarter to help Rain or Shine pull away for an 84-74 lead at the end of the quarter.

Rain or Shine led by as many as fourteen in the opening minutes of the fourth, but a sparked Cliff Hodge was able to rise to the occasion and help cut the lead to seven with around eight minutes left to play. It was the frontliners however who once again came to rescue, with import Wayne Chism helping extend the lead back to fourteen, 100-86, with six minutes gone by. Still fired up from the rally, the Elasto Painters would head into the last two minutes still leading by double digits. With time on Rain or Shine’s side, the Bolts could only watch as the Elasto Painters prevented them from kicking off any last minute runs.

Paul Lee had 23 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists in another Best Player of the Game performance. Cliff Hodge had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Meralco, who were without two key players- import Josh Davis and Jared Dillinger, both of whom were out with injuries. Mark Macapagal also had 20 markers for the Bolts. With the sweep, Rain or Shine is headed for the conference finals and is awaiting the winner of the Purefoods-Talk ‘N Text series.

The Scores:

Rain or Shine – Lee 23, Chism 16, Almazan 16, Araña 12, Norwood 10, Uyloan 8, Tiu 7, Belga 7, Quiñahan 2, J Cruz 2, J Cruz 2, Teng 2, Ibañes 2

Meralco – Hodge 20, Macapgal 20, Hugnatan 19, Anthony 14, Cortez 11, Caram 4, Wilson 3, Ildefonso 3, Sena 2

Quarters: 31-21, 49-52, 84-74, 107-98