MANILA, Philippines -- NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao said the Road Warriors can be proud of their campaign in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, where they made it to the quarterfinals despite missing the services of ace guard Kiefer Ravena.
Ravena played just four games for NLEX and did not join the team in the PBA's "semi-bubble" in Pampanga. The Road Warriors went 3-4 without Ravena, and their 5-6 win-loss record was good enough for the seventh seed in the playoffs.
"Losing Kiefer Ravena midway through the elimination round all the way to our playoffs campaign was tough. It's something we didn't prepare for," Guiao said in a post-season report on the NLEX team website.
Ravena left for Japan in August and is now playing for the Shiga Lakestars in the B.League. NLEX still has his player rights and Ravena is expected to rejoin the Road Warriors upon the conclusion of the B.League season.
For Guiao, making the playoffs without Ravena in the fold is already an achievement for NLEX, especially as they had missed out on the postseason in the 2020 All-Filipino Conference.
"I consider our campaign as decent enough," the coach said.
"We were able to push Meralco, which is considered one of the dark horse teams in the tournament and has a legitimate chance of making it to the championship round or even winning the title, to the brink," he pointed out.
"To me, that's something we can also be proud of," he added.
The Road Warriors stunned the Bolts, 81-80, in the quarterfinals on a game-winning layup by rookie Calvin Oftana to force a do-or-die affair. However, Meralco dominated the second game, 97-86, to advance to the semifinals.
But Guiao sees a silver lining in their campaign as he commended the efforts of his players, particularly his veterans JR Quiñahan, Jericho Cruz, and Kevin Alas.
Their role players like Don Trollano and Philip Paniamogan also had their moments, and Tony Semerad transformed into a two-way player under Guiao's guidance.
Oftana, the third overall pick in the Rookie Draft, grew in confidence as the conference progressed. He memorably put up a 34-point game against Meralco in the elimination round, where he made eight of 11 three-point attempts to break a longstanding rookie record held by Allan Caidic.
Guiao now wants the Road Warriors to sustain their momentum heading into the next PBA conference, where they will still play without Ravena.
"We're going to lose Kiefer for the next conference, but at least we can prepare more for that, this time," he said.