MANILA (UPDATED) - Rain or Shine emerged victorious in the first game of the new PBA season, as Beau Belga lifted the Elasto Painters to a thrilling 79-77 triumph against Converge on Sunday evening at the Araneta Coliseum.
Belga drilled the go-ahead three-pointer with 13.4 seconds left, capping the Elasto Painters' comeback from a late seven-point deficit and dealing the FiberXers a heartbreaking welcome to the PBA.
The veteran big man finished with 17 points, while Santi Santillan earned Player of the Game honors after putting up 18 points and nine rebounds. Andrei Caracut added 10 markers, and the Elasto Painters converted Converge's 14 turnovers to 20 points in the hard-earned win.
"It was extremely important for us to come out and be able to seal this tough, gritty win against [Converge]," Rain or Shine coach Chris Gavina said after the game. "I give a lot of credit to my guys, from Beau to Norbert [Torres], Santi."
The Elasto Painters trailed 73-66 with 3:44 left, but a triple by Caracut sparked a 9-0 blast that put ROS ahead, 75-73, with 1:34 to go. Rey Nambatac, who struggled with his shot all throughout the game, came through in the clutch again as he scooped in the layup that put Rain or Shine ahead.
Converge responded with two free throws by RK Ilagan and a difficult layup by Jeron Teng that gave them a 77-75 lead with just 23.4 seconds in the game. The Elasto Painters still had time, however, and it was Belga who made the biggest shot of the night as he faked Converge rookie Jeo Ambohot to get free for a three-pointer.
Gavina later said that he gave Belga the go-signal to make the play in the end game.
"I told Beau to read the defense because we knew that Rey would be coming to the ball. Beau was able to fake the hand off and turn, he got himself open," he said. "The thing I love about Beau, he's never scared of the big moment or taking the big shot, which really helped us with this win tonight."
The FiberXers still had a chance but Rain or Shine's defense in the final possession was impeccable. Santillan forced Teng into a poor pass that was picked off by Nambatac, and Santillan secured possession of the ball and was fouled. He made just one of two free throws, but a long range heave by Teng with 2.3 seconds left was well off the mark.
Squandered in the loss was a 23-point, 13-rebound effort from Teng. Alec Stockton had 13 points, and Ilagan finished with 10 markers.
Rain or Shine 79 – Santillan 18, Belga 17, Caracut 10, Torres 10, Nambatac 8, Nieto 8, Asistio 5, Norwood 3, Tolentino 0, Ponferada 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.