RAIN or Shine's investment in its youth brigade is already paying huge dividends.
Proof is how Rey Nambatac preserved rookie Santi Santillan's career game by hitting the deciding basket in Rain or Shine's 95-93 squeaker over San Miguel Beer Sunday in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Receiving the ball near the right corner, Nambatac worked his way closer to the basket before launching his shot against three defenders. The ball kissed off the glass and gave the Elasto Painters the two-point lead that stood inside the last two seconds when the Beermen's last-ditch offense went nowhere.
"That was all him," said RoS coach Chris Gavina of Nambatac, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 draft. "I got him the ball and he was the one who was able to go with his instincts and make that game-winning basketball."
As a result, Rain or Shine's victory that came on the heels of an equally thrilling 75-72 upset of Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok last Friday gave it a 6-4 slate and a clearer path to the quarterfinals. Another victory in their last elimination round game against NorthPort and the E-Painters are surely in.
The loss cut short SMB's two-game roll as it dropped to a 5-3 slate and now needing to rack up more victories against Magnolia, Phoenix and Alaska to not only advance to the next round but also stoke its chances of clinching a top two slot and a win-once advantage in the last eight.
Santillan, the No. 5 pick overall in last March's draft, pointed Rain or Shine in the right direction when he exploded for a career-high 21 points in the second half in leading the team's fightback from an early 13-point deficit through a lineup that also featured Javee Mocon, Nambatac, Aldre Caracut and Anton Asistio.
"Going to this game I told everybody that they need to be fearless today. I'm fearless when I'm playing these rookies," said Gavina.
"The guys have shown great character, extreme grit under extreme pressure these last two games. As you can see, they're ready to perform when their number is called so it's a blessing for us to have these super rookies in our team," added Gavina.
Santillan's first of three triples for the game gave the E-Painters a 72-69 lead at the end of the third period and his last point of the game made it a 93-89 count, 52.3 ticks left.
SMB was far from done, however, with June Mar Fajardo's charities and CJ Perez's layup off his own steal tying the game for the last time at 93, 12.5 seconds to go.
Terrence Romeo's 20 points paced the Beermen, who also drew 18 points each from Arwind Santos and Perez and at least 11 points from Mo Tautuaa and Marcio Lassiter.
Rain or Shine 95 - Santillan 21, Mocon 18, Asistio 11, Nambatac 9, Yap 9, Belga 9, Caracut 7, Torres 4, Norwood 3, Guinto 2, Ponferada 2, Wong 0, Johnson 0, Tolentino 0, Borboran 0.
SMB 93 - Romeo 20, Santos 18, Perez 18, Tautuaa 13, Lassiter 11, Fajardo 8, Pessumal 3, Ross 2, Zamar 0, Gotladera 0, Comboy 0, Gamalinda 0, Sena 0.
Quarters: 16-27, 41-51, 72-69, 93-95