Rain or Shine sophomore guard Jericho Cruz has been playing inspired basketball these days and it’s easy to understand why.
While he is determined to help the Elasto Painters realize their ultimate goal against the Alaska Aces in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals, the 6-foot-1 Cruz is also juggling his time as he and soon-to-be-wife wife Mossah Carlos prepares for their wedding on August 20.
“Mas inspired ako ngayon because it’s a new chapter of my life,” Cruz, 25, told FOX Sports on Friday night following Rain or Shine’s 105-97 victory in the opener of their best-of-seven finals series with Alaska at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
“Busy rin at the same time pero mas pina-prioritize ko pa rin ang basketball ngayon. But after practice, I follow her kung saan man siya nagpupunta o kung may pipirmahan mang dokumento. It’s really a busy month for me, hanggang August,” he added.
Considered by many as the biggest revelation this season, Cruz provided the spark in the Painters’ ferocious start, pumping in 12 of his 18 points in the opening frame where they led by as many as 14 markers at 24-10 over the slow-starting Aces.
A former Adamson U star, Cruz also added nine rebounds, five assists and two steals against a lone turnover while playing solid defense on Alaska counterpart Cyrus Baguio in 26 efficient minutes of play as a starter.
His failure to help Rain or Shine in their stinging seven-game finals loss to Tropang TNT in last year’s edition of the mid-season tourney serves as an added motivation for Cruz.
“Last year, we made the finals but we lost in Game 7. Masakit ‘yun kasi hindi pa ako masyadong nakatulong because I was injured,” he said, referring to his broken foot he suffered against crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra in the Philippine Cup that hampered his showing during his freshman year.
Cruz, however, has already moved on and he ’s now eager to make up for lost time. But he admitted the Aces won’t be any pushover despite lacking the services of injured top guns JVee Casio and Vic Manuel.
“Ang lakas ng Alaska sobra. Hindi mo alam kung sino ang puputok sa kanila. Buti naka-tsamba kami sa Game 1. Medyo malas lang rin sina Calvin (Abueva), (RJ) Jazul at (Chris) Banchero,” he said.
Cruz also added the Painters need to tighten up their defensive screws notably on Aces import Rob Dozier, who exploded for 41 points on 18-of-22 shooting in the opener.
“We need to step up and play more defense against Dozier. We need to limit him down,” he said.
Seeing veteran guard Paul Lee do what he does best also excites Cruz. “I’m happy to see him back playing like that again. Malaking tulong ‘yun sa team. He’s always the leader like before,” he concluded. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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