MANILA, Philippines -- After earning Player of the Game honors in their very first assignment of the PBA season, Rain or Shine big man Santi Santillan is more motivated than ever.
Santillan contributed 18 points and nine rebounds in the Elasto Painters' thrilling 79-77 win against Converge, highlighted by the game-winning three-pointer from Beau Belga with 13 seconds left.
The former De La Salle University forward then helped Rain or Shine hold on to victory, as he forced Jeron Teng into a bad pass in the final possession for the FiberXers.
"'Yun ang game plan ni coach. Alam na namin na kay Jeron mapupunta 'yung bola, so 'yung papunta pa lang ng screen, kailangan talaga i-double namin or ipasa kay Jeron, ganoon. So, 'yun, nakuha naman namin," Santillan said of their strong defense down the stretch.
Santillan was fouled by Teng and he made one of two free throws to peg the final score. A last ditch heave by Teng as time expired was well off the mark.
Afterward, Rain or Shine coach Chris Gavina and Belga were all praises for Santillan, whom the team picked fifth overall in the 2021 PBA Rookie Draft.
"Like I've been explaining to everybody, this was gonna be Andrei [Caracut] and Santi 2.0 this year," said Gavina, referring to their other second-year player. "Myself, my staff made sure that we created an environment where these guys could blossom under us."
"The amount of work they really dedicated themselves has proven tonight in their ability to close out this game," he added.
"Talagang pinaghihirapan ni Santi. Every practice namin, maaga siya, nagshu-shooting. Talagang nagi-invest si Santi," noted Belga. "Alam naman niya eh -- aside from ako, si Norbert [Torres], the next [big man] na is Santi, tapos si Jewel [Ponferrada]."
"Yung mga kapuwestuhan niya, pare-parehas kaming singko. So siya lang ang namumukod-tangi sa four spot. So siguro naisip ni Santi na kailangan niyang magpalakas ng katawan," he added. "And 'yun nga, nagbe-benefit naman. Maganda 'yung nilaro ni Santi, and sana magtuloy-tuloy. Malaking bagay si Santi para sa amin."
Santillan is determined to continue living up to the expectations of his coaches and teammates, particularly his veterans. It's a task that is all the more important now after Rain or Shine traded Javee Mocon to Phoenix Super LPG.
"Malaki ang tiwala nila coach sa akin at ng mga beterano. 'Di ko sasayangin tiwala nila," he said. "Pero one game at a time. Ginagawa ko naman 'yung dapat gawin sa team."