Playoff bonus race heats up

TNT’s Yousef Taha stretches for a layup. —PBA IMAGES

Rain or Shine’s veterans hit the free throws that made the difference inside the final 7.6 seconds and keyed an 88-85 victory over Meralco on Friday night that gave the Elasto Painters at least a tie for the second quarterfinal bonus in the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs.

The Painters blew several double-digit leads in the third quarter and needed three free throws from Gabe Norwood and Beau Belga in the dying seconds to pull out the win and rise to 8-3, with only Phoenix Pulse having a better record going into the homestretch of the elimination round.

And that could change when the Fuel Masters battle San Miguel Beer in a Petron Saturday Special Game slated in Panabo, where Phoenix can tab the top ranking with a win in the 5 p.m. contest.

Phoenix can clinch the top spot with a victory while a defeat opens the possibility of a five-team tie at 8-3, which will necessitate the quotient—and even knockout games—to determine which two teams will own twice-to-beat advantages in the playoffs.

TNT stayed in the hunt for that 8-3 record when it notched its sixth win in nine games earlier in the day, crushing Alaska, 92-78.

“Our worry is our [own] game,” TNT coach Bong Ravena said after catching the Beermen at 6-3. “Our target is to win our remaining [two] games and then we’ll see.”

Norwood broke the game’s last tie at 85 with a split, before Belga went 2-for-4 in the next two Rain or Shine offensives that doomed the Bolts to their sixth loss in nine games.

Meralco needs a sweep of its remaining two games to have a shot at a playoff for the last quarterfinal slot.

Alaska, meanwhile, needs a sweep of its remaining games for a complication-free entry to the quarterfinals after taking its fifth loss in eight games.

Ravena knows that victories in their last two games could set them up for a shot at a twice-to-beat privilege.

“What’s important right now is [for us] to win our last two games,” he said after RR Pogoy scattered 24 points in just over 20 minutes at Cuneta Astrodome for their fourth straight win. “We know we have a chance, but we first have to win our last two [games].”

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