Veterans take charge as NLEX wins first game without Kiefer

TOP PHOTO: NLEX star Kevin Alas (7) drives past Alaska’s Mike DiGregorio. Alas is one of the gunners filling in for the absent Kiefer Ravena. —PBA IMAGES

Showing that there is life after Kiefer Ravena—or while NLEX waits for his return—the Road Warriors on Thursday had several players stepping up in an 84-74 bamboozling of Alaska in the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations at Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor, Pampanga province.

And that precisely is what coach Yeng Guiao meant when he said in past interviews that his team would need to “grow a right hand.”

JR Quinahan scored 18 points, Kevin Alas added 17 and Ken Ighalo and Jericho Cruz accounted for 15 each as the Road Warriors recovered from a poor start and won pulling away, rising to 3-2 in the process while serving notice that they can hold their own even without their franchise player.

‘By committee’

Ravena is in Japan, processing his papers as he is set to play in the B.League. The only way for him to be able to see some PH Cup action is if the Road Warriors make it to at least the semifinals, and Guiao’s veterans—at least in this game—showed that they are up to that task.

“We have no choice but to grow another hand—or look for a prosthetic,” Guiao said. “Our mentality has become ‘We cannot step into the shoes of Kiefer if we’re just looking for one or two guys to step into [his] shoes.’ We have to do [things] by committee.”

Maverick Ahanmisi had 17 points, shooting with deadly accuracy from deep to lead all of Alaska scorers. His efforts, however, weren’t good enough to keep the Aces from sliding to 2-4.

“We have no choice but to work harder, play smarter—make the best use of the opportunities given to us,” said Guiao.

Looking for remedies

And no one took heed of the NLEX mentor’s directions better than Ighalo, who played his first game of the season.

“Kevin’s the best player here. But I think Ken is a close best player to Kevin in this match,” said Guiao.

Constantly looking for remedies to smoothen the holes left by Ravena will be a constant for NLEX as the tournament plods along, according to Guiao. That is why he has not looked far beyond the confines of the game despite the quick turnaround that awaits his club.

“We haven’t thought about it,” he said of the clash with limping Phoenix this Saturday. “All we have to do now is to get back to the hotel right away.”

He does, however, know what not having enough focus does.

“But I think if you put your guard down you can lose big,” Guiao said, alluding to San Miguel’s stunning loss to doormat Terrafirma, along with Magnolia’s first-ever defeat at the hands of Meralco the night before where the Hotshots lost a 13-point lead with two minutes remaining.

“That’s how unpredictable this bubble, this conference is,” he said. “You can’t afford to relax against any team.”

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