Llamados, Painters new age rivals in the PBA
“Rain or Shine has really been a match up nightmare for us," Gregorio told GMANews.TV in a telephone interview. “We were always trying to catch up with them because they have quicker and stronger guards."
“Sol Mercado showed an unbelievable level of play. He was really the scourge in that series. He was like a typhoon that is so destructive. I can’t blame my seven-year-old son, Ramon, for admiring him and taking his autograph," added Gregorio, who won three league titles, all with the Purefoods’ franchise.
For the third straight conference, the Llamados and the Elasto Painters were in a tight struggle for a seat in the semifinal round.
The Elasto Painters defeated the Llamados (then known as the Tender Juicy Giants) in last season’s quarterfinals series of the same tournament. The Giants struck back last conference, outlasting their rivals in a grueling, five-game series in the Philippine Cup, which served as the driving point to winning their All-Filipino crown over the Alaska Aces.
Their third meeting was indeed a humdinger of a series.
“They won the series last year, then last conference, we were ahead, 2-0, and all of a sudden, they tied it up, but we were the more experienced team and that somehow spelled the difference," said Gregorio. “This conference, it was the other way around as we were trying to catch up with them and we were able to use our veteran smarts again in the end."
But for Gregorio, Game 5 was indeed a classic. And not even a multi-titled coach like him could hide his anxious appearance, especially when he saw his team’s big lead wiped out quickly by the Elasto Painters and watched his team teetering on the brink of defeat in the final minute.
“That game (Game 5) was the most difficult game I've ever coached," said Gregorio. “I've coached in more than 300 games and this is the first time my knees were wobbling, my heart was pounding so hard and I couldn’t even hide the fact that I’m nervous. But we were so glad we were able to pull it off."
Bitter rivals on the court, but gentlemen outside of it
The brewing new age rivalry is now at fever pitch, according to Gregorio.
“Yes, we were really hitting each other. This is a contact sport. James (Yap) suffered a swollen eye brow after receiving an inadvertent head-butt from Sol Mercado. I thought Jay-R Reyes went too far, but sometimes it happens in a game as emotional as this one. Sissies have no place inside the court and we’re all aware of that," said Gregorio, whose team is seeking a modern-day grandslam in the PBA.
Gregorio and his counterpart, Caloy Garcia, would often exchanged words during the game, and so were the players who would play in five bone-wearing matches. But at the end of the series, all of them showed mutual respect.
“After the game, coach Caloy even texted me and sent a message – Coach, Good Job, Good Series and Congratulations – I texted him back saying that he has done a spectacular job with his team and that he should stay there and continue doing the great things," said Gregorio.
“I likened Rain or Shine to a young Chicago Bulls against the Detroit Pistons. Because I know, once they hit maturity, Rain or Shine can become a great, great team so long as it keep its core and play the same system," added Gregorio.
Gracious in defeat
Rain or Shine co-owner Raymond Yu and his team were a minute away from securing only their second semifinals appearance in league history.
But a dagger triple from KG Canaleta enabled the Llamados to gain their second win.
“We’re almost there, until Canaleta made a big basket," said Yu. “It’s really an energy-zapping loss, but I believe we did a great job from coming back into the game. Both team deserves to win, but one team has to earn it and that’s Derby Ace. We would like to thank them for a great series. "
“I would like to commend Commissioner Sonny Barrios and the referees who officiated in that game. It was a well-officiated game. They were really in control of things. I would also like to wish our good commissioner good luck," added Yu. - GMANews.TV