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Jerson Cabiltes hopes to bring lessons from semis loss to San Juan to 'last dance' as Nueva Ecija disputes MPBL title

It's all systems go for the MPBL National Finals. Ivan Saldajeno
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—Starting the season 25-0 is no joke.

Nueva Ecija imposed its will for the entire MPBL regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs to become the heavy favorite to win it all even as the fans began to think about a possible 30-0 sweep.

However, the club had a reality check two weeks ago when San Juan stunned them, 79-72, in Game 1 of the North Division Finals right at their home, the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan, snapping the longest winning streak Philippine professional basketball has ever seen and shattering the hopes for an "invincible" season.

"It was so painful to us," Rice Vanguards coach Jerson Cabiltes said on Tuesday during the pre-finals press conference conducted at the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex conference room.

They even found themselves in trouble of actually dropping the best-of-three series to the Knights as they fought back from 26 points down in the second quarter to force overtime even as Judel Fuentes had a decent look for the game-winning three at the final buzzer of the regulation only that it was just a bit too strong to the dismay of the jam-packed FilOil EcoOil Centre in San Juan City.

Nueva Ecija eventually dominated the extension to send the series back to Palayan for Game 3, which the team won to complete the reverse sweep.

"Hindi na ako nagulat noong sila ang nanalo," Vic Icasiano, Zamboanga's head coach, commented.

According to Cabiltes, the team just lived by its vow after the Game 1 loss.

"It was a learning experience that reminded us that we don't want to lose again, so in Games 2 and 3 against San Juan, I'd always told them to remember the pain so that we're gonna give our best each and every time para hindi na kami matalo uli," he further said.

Nueva Ecija now looks to bring the lessons from the Game 1 loss to San Juan to the best-of-five national finals which will begin on Friday night also at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum.

However, Zamboanga, the South Division champion, is now the team standing in the way of Nueva Ecija's dream season.

Based on how their regular season match went, in which Nueva Ecija escaped with an 81-76 squeaker at home, expect the series to be tight again.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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