NLEX dismantles early Terrafirma lead for comeback win
Even NLEX coach Yeng Guiao knows the chances that have slipped past a Terrafirma squad because of its trade-decimated roster.
“Terrafirma is really good. You cannot underestimate [this team],” Guiao said Wednesday evening, after his Road Warriors needed a strong comeback to hammer out a gutsy 105-102 victory in the PBA Philippine Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“They’re big and they have pieces,” added Guiao. “It’s just that their players have always been picked off [in trades]. If it hadn’t [traded away key] players, Terrafirma might have won a championship already.”
The Road Warriors just got a glimpse of this latest iteration of the Dyip, who rushed to a 16-point lead early behind the heroics of Joseph Gabayni, before Calvin Oftana and skipper Kevin Alas willed NLEX to the victory.
“I’m very happy with the way we won. You could see the character of the team,” Guiao said. “We ground it out to the end, so I look at it as a good sign of the character of this team.”
“Calvin is such a big thing [for us],” he added. “On a good night, that 20-point performance is so easy for him. That’s what we missed against Ginebra [in the Governors’ Cup] semifinals.”
“Kevin, meanwhile, you could see his game coming back. We also missed him [during that] semifinals. Things are now looking better.”
Oftana scored 18 of his 20 points all in the payoff frame to seal the deal for the Road Warriors while Alas led the team with a game-high 24 points.
Those efforts would have slipped to futility had it not been for JR Quiñahan, who accounted for over a third of NLEX’s 40 points in the third quarter that allowed the Road Warriors to move to within competitive distance.
“If our offense wasn’t that bad in the first half, then we wouldn’t have had a hard time winning the game,” said Guiao.
It was a sorry loss for Terrafirma, which traded No. 2 overall pick Jonathan Gray to Barangay Ginebra because it could not wait for him to recover from an injury.
Gabayni anchored the offense on the way to a 47-31 lead in the first half. Juami Tiongson and Joshua Munzon kept the Dyip in the thick of things during that NLEX fightback in the final two quarters, with Ed Daquioag hitting an off-balanced three with seven seconds remaining to make it 103-101.
But coach Johnedel Cardel, the soft-spoken Terrafirma mentor, said that such a meltdown was bound to happen considering Terrafirma’s roster. “I only have a few veterans—Aldrech [Ramos], Juami and Eric [Camson],” said Cardel.
As Guiao pointed out, however, it shouldn’t have been that way. Terrafirma could have been a team that featured Christian Standhardinger (traded to San Miguel Beer, now with Ginebra) and CJ Perez (traded to San Miguel Beer). Meanwhile, NLEX hopes to get a streak going this Friday against San Miguel Beer, which held off Phoenix, 108-100, in the second game.
NLEX should consider itself warned: June Mar Fajardo finished with 24 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and three blocks to lead the Beermen against the Fuel Masters.