MANILA, Philippines – All throughout the 2017-18 PBA Philippine Cup, NLEX guard Kiefer Ravena has earned praise for "not playing like a rookie."
The second overall pick in the 2017 PBA Draft needed no time to adjust to the professional level; he would average 15.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.9 steals per game in the elimination round and help the Road Warriors advance to the quarterfinals.
On Monday, he showed that even the charged atmosphere of the PBA playoffs has little effect on him.
In Game 1 of their best-of-3 quarterfinal series against the Alaska Aces, Ravena was superb. "The Phenom" fired 25 points – 12 of which came in the fourth quarter – on top of eight assists in his very first PBA playoff game.
His last dime led to Michael Miranda's go-ahead bucket with 22 seconds left, and he sealed the deal with a lay-up of his own with 18.8 seconds to go.
"Gusto ko rin lang talaga manalo," Ravena said after piloting NLEX to a 105-99 win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series. "I was really in the zone with the game, kasi sayang eh. Nagpakahirap ka buong conference, andito ka na, and then magre-relax ka lang."
"So it's just a best-of-3 series, hindi siya best-of-7 na may konting leeway, na minumum four games ang lalaruin niyo. Ito pwedeng dalawa lang, so 'yung mga ganitong games kailangan ma-capitalize mo," he added.
While he earned Player of the Game honors for his crunch time effort, Ravena stressed that their comeback was a collective effort. After leading by as much as 11 points in the first half, NLEX found itself trailing by four, 96-92, with under three minutes to go before Larry Fonacier tied the game with a four-point play.
From there, the Road Warriors simply "locked in and focused."
"It was a grit and grind game," said Ravena, who let out a triumphant yell after seeing Miranda score, and again after converting the tough lay-up with just seconds to go.
Yet Ravena also stressed that they cannot afford to let up. The win over Alaska was NLEX's first ever playoff win, and they are determined to add to that total on Wednesday when they take on the Aces again in Game 2.
"It's nice to be part of history of the franchise, but we're not satisfied. That wasn't the goal that we set during the start of the season," said Ravena.
"It's nice to have that feat. Hopefully we get another taste of history for the franchise by making it to the semifinals. We're one foot in, hopefully we get the other foot in as well and close that door," he added.
It will not be a walk in the park; the Road Warriors are up against an Alaska team that has traditionally played at a higher level whenever they have their backs against the wall. Thus, Ravena says that as much as they relish their win in Game 1, they must be quick to move on from it, too.
"Kahit gaano kasarap 'yung panalo, kailangan pa rin namin kalimutan and focus on Game 2," he said.
"We know Alaska is gonna be tougher, they're gonna be more physical. All of those guys will be fighting and playing hard kasi nga they can be eliminated after that game," he added.
"So we have to be ready, we have to brace ourselves and prepare better, and have more energy than Alaska even though we're one game up."
Game 2 of the best-of-3 series is on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
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