Reaching the end of the road after a generally smooth-free ride, top seed NLEX is charging its heartbreaking fall at the hands of No. 8 NorthPort to experience.
The Road Warriors failed to capitalize on their twice to beat advantage and absorbed a lethal 123-126 loss in an epic triple-overtime rubbermatch to miss out on a seat in the PBA Governors' Cup semis last Wednesday.
"We're terribly disappointed but I guess we just have to look for a positive takeaway. Things like these are going to make us stronger as a team," said NLEX coach Yeng Guiao.
"Sayang lang kasi one win away (from the semis). We had twice to beat, nawala sa amin ang unang laro (90-115) pero we still had the chance and eto triple overtime, pero ganon talaga ang buhay; hindi ganon kasaya ang Pasko but this will make us better for the future," said Kiefer Ravena.
With Ravena back from Fiba suspension and efficient import Manny Harris coming in, the Road Warriors rose out of the depths to become a serious contender in the season-ender, logging a league-best 8-3 record. But Guiao's charges faded big-time in the late stretches, losing their last four assignments, including a pair in the quarterfinal duel with NorthPort that cut short their run.
"This conference, we had a really competitive elimination round, taking first place but still we're not able to get to the next round. I guess it's still that maturity thing. I feel we have the right pieces already. we just need to mature together as a team and be able to raise our level of play when it comes to playoffs.
"The eliminations and the playoffs are played on a different level so it's just maturity that we need to be able to raise to that level," he said.
NLEX became the fourth No. 1 team to surrender to the last-ranked squad in the quarters.
"It (top seed being toppled by No. 8) will happen, it happens and it happened before. Mahirap lang kung sa iyo mangyari but again it's part of the maturity process of the team. Actually hindi naman namin in-expect na No. 1 kami ngayon, yung makita mo lang na nag-iimprove na yung team mo, nagpa-fall together yung players, sa amin, this team has improved a lot from the last conference," said Guiao.
The beginning of the end happened when a lethargic NLEX allowed an aggressive NorthPort to get momentum with a 25-point rout in the first game of the quarters, sending this down to a do-or-die.
"If we had played with the same kind of energy and effort earliier, maybe we could have closed it out earlier. We had to wait for the second game and give them confidence and momentum coming into the game so I guess yun ang lesson sa amin. That's the thing also - these painful experiences are going to make a mark on your psyche and as long as you bring these lessons to the next stage of our existence as a team, that's going to help us in the future," said Guiao.
There's even more lessons to be learned for Poy Erram and Paul Varilla, who were suspended in the rubbermatch for hitting NorthPort import Michael Qualls in the first match, and helplessly watched on TV.
"Poy and Paul would've been a big help if they had played today but that's already water under the bridge and again, that's another lesson to learn, perhaps personal lessons also for Poy and Paul," said Guiao of his two stalwarts, who had eventually apologized to Qualls, NorthPort, the league, their squad, and the fans for their actions. (OL)