EVEN with a powerhouse team, NLEX, believe it or not, had to hurdle several obstacles en route to a fourth straight crown.
It is for this reason that head coach Boyet Fernandez considers their run to the Aspirants Cup crown sweeter than their three previous finals wins against Cebuana Lhuillier, Freego Jeans, and Big Chill.
After beating Cagayan Valley, 82-71, for a third consecutive title series sweep, Fernandez insisted the road to the championship wasn't as easy as it looked for the heavily favored ballclub.
“So many stories,” said Fernandez. “Mas masarap ito dahil people already told us that they are expecting us to win.”
The Road Warriors suffered their first setback after 24 games when they lost to Café France during the elimination round, then had to survive Air21-Jose Rizal University before advancing to the finals.
In between those events, several NLEX players had to leave the team to play for Gilas Pilipinas in two international tournaments.
Injuries also hounded the team with Ronald Pascual and Matt Ganuelas having to sit out some of the games. Greg Slaughter also had to sit out for the first few games of the conference while sorting out issues concerning the immigration bureau and the PBA.
“Hindi kami nagkakasama, hindi kami mabuo because of the practices with Gilas. Marami kaming injuries and we had to settle a few issues,” said Fernandez.
“All those times na hindi kami magkakasama, at least ngayon magkakasama kami ngayon for our fourth crown,” said Fernandez.
The finals series turned out to be relatively as they routed Cagayan Valley by an average margin of 17.5 points to win the crown via sweep.
The hardest part, Fernandez said, was what they went through in the semifinals against the Heavy Bombers, who pushed them to the brink of elimination.
NLEX did win Game Three of that series but by just two points and had to watch as Byron Villarias hoisted a game-winning triple that was blocked by Kirk Long.
“We thank JRU, muntik na kami doon. They made us prepare for the finals,” said Fernandez.