COACH Boyet Fernandez said he had seen it coming - NLEX's first loss in close to 11 months, that is - long before it happened.
Seeing signs of slacking and overconfidence here and there, Fernandez thought the Road Warriors were bound to lose twice in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup, but both times they pulled off great escapes against Jose Rizal University, 91-87, on November 13 and Cagayan Valley, 84-75, on December 4.
“It’s time for us to have a loss,” said Fernandez after the law of averages finally caught up with the D-League powerhouse, dropping a 66-52 decision to Cafe France on Tuesday that ended the Road Warriors' 24-game winning streak spanning three conferences and almost 11 months.
"Na-delay lang (ang talo na 'yan), dapat nga noong JRU pa yun and then sa Cagayan,” he said.
It wasn't difficult for Fernandez to explain how NLEX, winner of all three conferences in the developmental league and composed of the best talent available in the amateur league, can lose to a Cafe France team that wasn't even among the teams deemed capable of winning the title this season.
“Wala kami depensa (while) ang effort at intensity ng Cafe France nandoon,” he said. “Sa three points 0-for-17 kami, we were averaging 22 assists per game but we only had six (in this game), six turnover points (lang na-convert) and nawala ang effort namin and we didn’t play as a team.”
Most of all, he had seen how the Road Warriors uncharacteristically lost their composure in the final quarter, where they scored a grand total of four points.
“Cafe France caught us in the fourth quarter, nabigla (ang mga players ko) sumabay ang Cafe France. Hindi na nag-set up (ng mga plays) and started rushing their shots," he said.
"I take the blame for it.”
Fernandez, however, preferred to stick to the positives, saying the stunning loss should serve as a wake-up call for the team as it continues to pursue a fourth successive championship.
The real test for the Road Warriors, he said, should come on Thursday in a game against title contender Blackwater, when NLEX's capacity to rise from adversity will be finally tested.
The game should be a test of character for NLEX, Fernandez said.
"The loss is a wake-up call for us," he said. "The character of this team will be tested on Thursday. Hopefully, makabawi sila."