|Forced to play small ball, Mark Yee had to play center, but the gamble paid off. PBA Media Bureau|
By Dugout Philippines
PASAY--Kia's long ordeal is finally over, no little thanks to a bunch of players who stepped up at a time when the team needed it most.
Veteran Mark Yee played out his role as team captain to the hilt in leading the undermanned Picanto to a 98-94 win over Rain or Shine Saturday in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Roider Cabrera, Rashawn McCarthy and Glenn Khobuntin were also among those who shone the most for Kia as it snapped out of a 16-game winless spell dating back to the last Commissioner's Cup.
What makes the Picanto's first win in five games in this season-opening tournament is the fact it was fashioned despite the absence of the injured JayR Reyes (calf), Jackson Corpuz (left wrist) and new acquisition Carlo Lastimosa (left ankle).
Kia's manpower woes even worsened with the ejection of Eric Camson in the second quarter and the foul trouble remaining big man Prince Caperal got into as early as the third period.
Even Yee was nursing an ankle sprain but played on and finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, mostly playing as an undersized center.
Cabrera finished with a career-high 14 points, the same output turned in by McCarthy, who scattered 11 of those in the fourth.
Seeing action only in the second half, Khobuntin wound up with 11 points which he highlighted with a drive and a fallaway that gave Kia its biggest lead at 96-89.
Rain or Shine actually seemed it was ready to steal the game by scoring the next five points and coming within 94-96, but could not buy a basket despite three straight tries.
Yee and Khobuntin then saw it fit to ice the game with the former winning a jumpball against Gabe Norwood, with the tap going to Khobuntin for a layup that made it a four-point game, only 2.7 seconds left.
"I'm more relieved and very happy for our team," said Kia coach Rcky Dandan, who took over after Kia's first loss of the season that stretched its drought dating back to May of last year.
"We broke that (losing spell) and this will go a long way in our rebuilding," added Dandan.
Kia actually lost its last two games against Magnolia and Alaska by a combined margin of 84 points but Dandan said the guys still remained upbeat despite those.
"It was very difficult because our confidence was all shot, related Dandan. "But we really have no choice but move forward and look at the positives of everything despite all those blowout games.
"We really dug deep and that kept us going. Our guys really worked hard for this. We all agreed that whatever happens we will not stop fighting. They showed that today."
The loss was Rain or Shine's third in five games, notwithstanding Rey Nambatac's career game of 12 points and 12 rebounds.
James Yap, Chris Tiu and Jewel Ponferrada also scored in double figures, but fueling the E-Painters' downfall were their total 10 missed free throws and a 30-for-83 field shooting.
Kia also avoided its third quarter meltdown when it managed to outscore Rain or Shine 32-24 to raze a 40-44 deficit and go into the fourth canto with a 72-68 lead.
Not before the game turning chippy with only 3:01 left in the second quarter when Camson and Rain or Shine's Raymond Almazan exchanged elbows and punches. After being separated, each was assessed an F2 which also carries with it an automatic ejection.