NLEX hangs on behind Ravena
Another SMB-TNT showdown appeared in the works with the KaTropa and the Grand Slam-seeking Beermen coming up with explosive imports in the PBA season-ending Governors’ Cup.
Led by former Houston Rocket KJ McDaniels, the Ka-Tropa slipped past Rain or Shine (103-91) and Columbian Dyip (125-120) for a leading 4-0 card last week while the Beermen matched the back-to-back wins at the expense of Alaska (101-75) and NLEX (98-94) in Dubai for a 3-0 start behind Italian league veteran Dez Wells.
It’s still a long way off but the NLEX Road Warriors are threatening to spoil things not with another super reinforcement but with a local who is back from an 18-month Fiba suspension for unwittingly taking a banned substance.
After playing for the outclassed Gilas Pilipinas team in the recent Fiba World Cup won by Spain, Kiefer Ravena returned to provide the spark and inspiration for the Road Warriors who showed they’re no flashes in the pan by hounding the leaders with a third-best 4-1 slate.
Their three-game winning start against Phoenix, Meralco and Blackwater stopped by the Beermen last Friday in Dubai, the Road Warriors came back with greater resolve the next day to pin a second loss on the heavily favored Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings.
NLEX, which finished last at 3-8 in the Commissioner’s Cup, escaped with a 113-111 overtime decision after trailing by as much as 28, 72-44 early in the third quarter. Ravena forced the extension at 103-all with a three-pointer then NLEX rallied from 107-111 in the extra period with triples from Philip Paniamogan and Jericho Cruz, who struck after a Ravena assist.
It was another heartbreaker for coach Tim Cone, who also dropped a close 103-101 loss to Phoenix on a jumper by Mathew Wright with five seconds left in his first game after being tapped to mentor Gilas Pilipinas in the coming Southeast Asian Games the country will host starting next month.
Aside from his leadership, Ravena has inspired the Road Warriors into turning fearless gunners from the quartercourt. Against Blackwater, NLEX scored on 18 of 31 three-point attempts with Ravena hitting five of eight tries to end up with 25 points. All told, the 37 triples in the game was a PBA record.
Tied for fourth place so far with 2-1 cards are defending champion Magnolia and Meralco with Columbian sixth at 2-2 in what is expected to be an exciting race for a top four slot that will get a twice-to-beat bonus in the quarterfinals.