NLEX has shown it has the defensive teeth to match that of Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok.
It's now a matter of the Road Warriors adding more edge to their offense when they tangle with the Hotshots anew Monday in their PBA Philippine Cup semi-finals duel at the Mall of Asia Arena.
NLEX is aiming to follow up its 88-87 squeaker in the best-of-seven series opener last Saturday, but would have to do so against a Magnolia crew bent on shrugging off its manpower problems and expected to put up a tougher stance this time around.
"I believe ang mababang score will favor Magnolia. It's just that tonight we were able to keep up with their defense," said Road Warriors coach Yeng Guiao after Game 1.
"But I still feel throughout the series we need to keep the score high for us to have a better chance of winning games."
Guiao spoke after his Road Warriors got off to a fine start in its first-ever semi-finals appearance and notched a first-ever win in five meetings with Magnolia with him at the helm.
Guiao said his team is now even more stoked up to see how far their dream run would go against a more experienced Magnolia side.
"This being their fourth straight trip to the semis and this is our first so they will have the edge in experience," Guiao pointed out. "But, sabi ko nga, the pressure is on them. Basta enjoy lang kami dito and we'll take it as far as we could take it."
Hotshots coach Chito Victolero admitted there is always pressure in every game, more so in the playoffs. But his team remains ready to slug it out.
"We knew coming in that it would be a grind-it-out affair and we are determined to bounce back," he said.
Magnolia must do battle without main defensive anchor Marc Pingris, nursing a left knee injury. Even guard Justin Melton, who started Game 1, remains doubtful due to a strained right knee. But Victolero welcomes the challenge.
"It should be harder without Ping, but this is the time for the other guys to step up," stated Victolero.
That is precisely what Guiao is wary of. "The hard part of this series is that other players can step up for them," he said, noting how PJ Simon and Ian Sangalang kept Magnolia in the thick of the fight in the opener.
Indeed, Simon and Sangalang combined for 41 points as the likes of Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Aldrech Ramos and Rome dela Rosa were stymied.
Lee, who came into the game averaging a team-high 17 points, went scoreless in the first half and finished with only eight points.
As a whole, the Hotshots wound up with a 37-of-79 field shooting, but only on the strength of an 11-for-19 clip in the fourth quarter that netted them as much as a 74-68 lead.
Magnolia came into the game as the second-best defensive team, giving up around 84 points in 12 games. NLEX is second-worst in that area after allowing 97 points in its first 13 games.
After his team shot just 37 % (27-of-72) from the field in Game 1, Guiao also said his squad must pick up its own offensive game.
Cyrus Baguio, Kiefer Ravena, Alex Mallari and Raul Soyud each scored at least 10 points for NLEX, but the likes of JR Quinahan, Kevin Alas and Larry Fonacier struggled, combining for only 16 points on 4-of-27 shooting.
They and the rest of the Road Warriors must pick up their offense more in the face of a projected charge by Lee and company.(NC)