Rain or Shine has San Miguel Beer’s number in their 2016 PBA Commissioners Cup semifinals battle so far and burly reinforcement Pierre Henderson-Niles appears one of the biggest reasons why.
That’s what sophomore guard Jericho Cruz thinks so, convinced the 6-foot-9 Henderson-Niles is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Elasto Painters who are on the verge of finally overcoming the Beermen while foiling their ambitious Grand Slam drive.
“He’s really a big factor in our team,” said the 6-foot-1 Cruz of Henderson-Niles following Rain or Shine’s thrilling 98-96 victory on Tuesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum for a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-five semis showdown.
The Elasto Painters felly prey to the Beermen in their last two meetings in the semis round but Cruz is convinced that the addition of Henderson-Niles, who took over the spot from Mo Charlo late in the eliminations, has given them enough boost to get the job done this time.
“Sobrang laking tulong niya. Kahit hindi siya scorer, but he’s a defender. ‘Yung presence niya sa loob, talagang nakakatulong sa team. He’s also a tough guy so he also motivates us as well. We didn’t had that in the last couple of conferences. I’m just really happy that we have him in the team,” said Cruz.
True to Cruz’s observation, Henderson-Niles piled up a double-double performance of 15 points and 16 rebounds on top of three assists, an assist, a block and a steal against a single error while helping slow down San Miguel Beer’s prized center June Mar Fajardo.
The 6-foot-11 Fajardo also had a double-double outing of 14 points and as many rebounds aside from a pair of block shots in 37 minutes of play but visibly groped for form against the Painters’ collapsing defense.
With Henderson-Niles anchoring their defense, Cruz also did his share on the offensive end by scoring a team-best 16 points, most of them off his fearless drives in the lane.
Cruz, a former Adamson U standout, admitted the confidence given to him by assistant coach Caloy Garcia, who called the shots in the absence of chief tactician Yeng Guiao due to a more pressing commitment, played a key role.
“Just play your game,” was how Cruz summed up Garcia’s instructions. “When you’re open, you gotta shoot. When you have a chance to attack, you attack.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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