|Cyrus Baguio provided the scoring load for the Road Warriors. PBA Media Bureau|
By Dugout Philippines
QUEZON CITY--Kiefer Ravena is not about to let NLEX's dream run come to a screeching halt.
Ravena led those who made the biggest plays in the endgame, enabling the Road Warriors to escape with an 88-87 win over Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok Saturday at the start of their PBA Philippine Cup semi-finals series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ravena hit his average with 16 points, but his dish to Alex Mallari for the go-ahead three-pointer and his steal off Rafi Reavis were key in first-time semi-finalist NLEX gaining the headstart in the best-of-seven matchup.
Game 2 is set Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena with NLEX coach Yeng Guiao foremost among those how that one goes.
"As I've said before, we're just in this for the ride," said Guiao. "This is an adventure for us as a team. We're just enjoying. Para kaming gatecrashers sa party. Nandito pa rin kami."
The loss is a sorry one for Magnolia since it looked like it was well on its way to stealing the game after Paul Lee's own trey made it just an 87-88 count and then Reavis stole the inbound from Cyrus Baguio.
But Ravena came from the blind side and swiped the ball, forcing Lee to give up his last foul on JR Quinahan, only eight-tenths of a second left.
After flubbing the first, Quinahan intentionally missed the second with the ball going to teammate Kevin Alas at the buzzer.
That capped a wild and wooly game which saw both teams struggling in the first half and then engaging in a tight battle through six deadlocks in the second half alone.
"We knew it would be a defensive matchup so we had to fine-tune our execution. Kung masama execution mo, Magnolia's defense is just going to suffocate you," said Guiao, whose team came into the game toting the second-worst defense in the tournament, nine rungs below the Hotshots.
True to Guiao's promise, NLEX also did a fine job on Lee, who was held to just eight points -- nine below his team-leading average -- on 3-of-10 field shooting.
"Sinubukan naming humanap ng paraan para ma-control si Paul and we actually succeeded, at least partly," said Guiao, who alternated Kenneth Ighalo, Mallari and Alas on his former player at Rain or Shine.
"I know Paul, so next game alam kong babawi siya so kailangan maghanda ulit kami," added Guiao.
Ian Sangalang and PJ Simon ably picked up the slack by combining for 41 points with the former adding nine rebounds.
Marc Pingris could have helped but he suffered a left knee injury while going for a drive, 4:39 left in the game and his team ahead 76-73.
Like Simon, Baguio also turned back the hands of time with 17 points while Mallari added 14.
JR Quinahan finished with just four points, 10 below his average, on 1-of-11 shooting, but made up with nine rebounds and seven assists.
NLEX 88 - Baguio 17, Ravena 16, Mallari 14, Soyud 10, Miranda 7, Fonacier 7, Al-Hussaini 6, Alas 5, Qui?ahan 4, Tiongson 2, Ighalo 0, Taulava 0, Gotladera 0.
MAGNOLIA 87 - Sangalang 21, Simon 20, Barroca 9, Lee 8, Ramos 8, Reavis 6, Herndon 5, Pingris 5, Dela Rosa 5, Melton 0, Jalalon 0, Brondial 0.
Quarters: 14-12, 32-27, 60-61, 88-87
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