By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
DREW first blood in their PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinal series on Saturday, the NLEX Road Warriors look to extend their lead over the Magnolia Hotshots in Game Two today at 7 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Hacking out an 88-87 victory in a tightly and physically fought contest, the Road Warriors, making their first appearance in the semifinals in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), are out to bury the Hotshots some more in their semis pairing to better position themselves to go even deeper in what has been a breakthrough tournament for them.
NLEX relied on a total team effort to get the better of Magnolia with veteran Cyrus Baguio leading the charge with 17 points followed by prized rookie Kiefer Ravena with 16 points.
Alex Mallari, who drained the go-ahead triple late in the game, finished with 14 while Raul Soyud added 10 points of his own in the win.
The Road Warriors also did a solid job on Magnolia star guard Paul Lee, who was limited to just eight points before fouling out in the game.
For NLEX coach Yeng Guiao, the solid run they are having in the Philippine Cup is something they are basking in, knowing it has been a product of their hard work and would just only strengthen the team moving forward.
“As I’ve said before, we’re just in this for the ride. This is an adventure for us as a team. We’re just enjoying. It’s like we’re gatecrashers to the party. We’re still here fighting,” said Mr. Guiao in the postgame press conference.
He was quick to say though that they are not about done and so does the series as they expect Magnolia to regroup and put up a tough stand anew in today’s match.
“We knew it would be a defensive matchup [with Magnolia] so we had to fine-tune our execution. Had we not executed the way we supposed to, their defense was just going to suffocate us,” the NLEX coach said.
Mr. Guiao also said that his former player in Rain or Shine, Mr. Lee, should only be expected to find ways to come back after struggling in the series opener.
“I know Paul as a player, so next game I know he will try to bounce back and we have to prepare for that anew,” he said.
On the part of Magnolia, while the loss left it disappointed, it remains bullish of its chances in the series, even if it would mean playing sans heart and soul Marc Pingris, who went down in the opener with an apparent knee injury.
Driving against NLEX’s JR Quiñahan with under five minutes remaining in the ball game, Mr. Pingris’s left knee gave way and left him sprawling on the floor after for some time and clutching his knee in pain.
He was later stretchered off to the dugout and to the hospital to have an MRI.
As of this writing, results of his MRI have yet to be released but the Hotshots are bracing for the worse and our now getting ready to play without one of its leaders.
“Ping (Pingris) is one of the stalwarts of the team but we have to do with what we have. Coach [Chito Victolero] has talked to our other big players and underscored the need for them to step up in the absence of Ping,” said Mr. Lee in the aftermath of their Game One loss.
Winner of the Magnolia-NLEX series takes on the victor of the other pairing between defending champions San Miguel Beermen and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings.
San Miguel held a 1-0 lead in their own best-of-seven series entering Game Two late yesterday.