With San Mig losing star forward Marc Pingris to injury, rookie big man Ian Sangalang stepped up in his absence and delivered in crunch time to help San Mig overcome the gritty Rain or Shine, 93-90 in Game 4 of the PLDT myDSL-PBA Philippine Cup Finals on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The Super Coffee Mixers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven affair. The former NCAA MVP couldn't have picked a better time to play his finest game as a pro, scoring 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with eight rebounds as he ably filled the void left by Pingris after the Gilas mainstay was taken to a hospital with an eye injury.
Together with the resurgent playmaker Mark Barroca, Sangalang turned around a six-point at the onset of the fourth quarter and led the Mixers to within a win of a second straight league championship.
The former Purefoods franchise can wrap up its first all-Filipino title for the team in four seasons - and an all-time record 16th career championship for coach Tim Cone - when Game Five is played on Sunday, also at the Big Dome.
The Mixers started out strong behind 14 points from James Yap in the first period. But the Elasto Painters went toe-to-toe with San Mig Coffee before eventually ending the opening quarter with a slim 27-26 edge.
San Mig Coffee took over in the second quarter behind rookies Justin Melton and Sangalang. The two first-year players combined for 17 points in the period as the Mixers opened up a 13-point spread before settling for a 52-42 edge at the half.
But the Elasto Painters came alive in the third quarter behind Paul Lee, who scored 11 points in the period. The Mixers struggled especially after the departure of Pingris, their main defender for Lee throughout the series.
Rain or Shine ended the quarter with a 76-70 advantage.
"We got fortunate we got two of those (wins in the endgame, referring to Games Three and Four ). We won the battle, we hope we didn't lose the war with Ping, who is injured," he added.
The 6-5 Sangalang, this season's No. 2 pick overall, scored on a floating jumper off Barroca's pass that gave the Mixers the 90-84 cushion with one a half minutes to to go.
The Elasto Painters kept battling to come to within 90-91 behind Paul Lee's five-point cluster and a split from the foul line by big boy JR Quinahan, but Barroca made his pair of foul shots with 12.4 seconds to go, making it 93-90.
But with Rain or Shine running out of timeout, Lee took matters into his own hands, letting go a three-point attempt that rolled out, allowing the Mixers to escape with their third straight win in the series.
"I thought that Paul Lee shot was in, but every game has gone down the wire," said Cone.
Pingris left the game with 4:59 to go in the third quarter after being poked in the right eye by JR Quinahan during a rebound battle under San Mig's basket.
Pingris was grimacing in pain as he headed back to the bench and never returned. He was later on taken to the hospital for an examination.
Sangalang and Barroca played big in the final period, combining for 13 points that more than made up for the absence of the energetic Pingris, who has been San Mig's defensive catalyst this conference.
Barroca matched Sangalang's 17-point output.
"They (Elasto Painters) are really hard to shake. They came back from 10 points down at halftime and led by six, but somehow, to the credit of our guys, we didn't hang our heads, but we just continued to battle," said Cone.
James Yap contributed 17 points, with almost all of his points came in the first half and Joe Devance and Peter June Simon added 12 each.
Lee again was big in Game Four, firing 28 points spiked by five three-point shots, as he almost singlehandedly carried the fight for Rain or Shine, which trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half.
“This team’s so well-coached, they’re so hard to shake,” said Cone of Rain or Shine. “I’m well-versed that you can’t pat yourself at the back at this point especially against a team like this.”