AFTER starting out the year having to overcome several adversities, NLEX ended 2019 with a lot of promise following the return of Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas, and player movements that made the Road Warriors a title contender not only this season but also in the following years as well.
SPIN.ph reviews the year that was for the Road Warriors.
Kevin Alas suffers second ACL injury
Two months into the new year, the Road Warriors were confronted with the bad news after Alas suffered his second ACL of his career. The injury happened last February in a game at the Ynares Center where he once again tore the ligament in his right knee, the same knee where he sustained his first ACL injury, incidentally, at the same Antipolo venue.
Alas’ injury compounded to NLEX’s woes as the team was already without its star guard Kiefer Ravena due to the Fiba ban. The Road Warriors still ended up in a share of eighth place with a 4-7 record but lost to Alaska in the playoff for the last quarterfinal berth.
After months of siting the bench, Alas made a full recovery and even played at the tailend of NLEX’s campaign in the Governors’ Cup.
Yeng Guiao steps down as Gilas coach
After coaching the national team in the 2018 Asian Games, NLEX coach Yeng Guiao returned for another duty as mentor for Gilas Pilipinas in 2019. But needing victories to secure a place in the 2019 Fiba World Cup after two losses at the end of 2018, Guiao steered Gilas to victories over Qatar and Kazakhstan last February to claim a berth in China where the World Cup was held.
Guiao’s stint in the World Cup, however, was a forgettable one, losing all of its games and finishing dead last among 32 nations in the competition. Shortly after the campaign, Guiao stepped down as Gilas head coach.
Kiefer Ravena returns
After 18 months of serving a Fiba ban for ingesting a banned performance-enhancing substance, Kiefer Ravena returned to the PBA on September 21 at the start of the Governors’ Cup. Ravena was impressive in his return to the Road Warriors, finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and three steals in their 123-116 win over Phoenix Pulse.
Ravena’s return also sparked NLEX’s campaign in the Governors’ Cup where the Road Warriors finished on top after the end of the eliminations with an 8-3 win-loss record. Ravena was later on selected to play for Gilas Pilipinas where he won his fifth straight Southeast Asian Games gold medal.
Jericho Cruz sparks comeback wins
Midway in the season, NLEX was able to obtain Jericho Cruz last June in a three-team trade that also involved TNT and Columbian. Little did the Road Warriors know that Cruz would play a big role in two big wins in the season.
The Road Warriors’ campaign in the Governors’ Cup was marked by two come-from-behind wins that ignited their bid for a playoff spot. Their first win came at the expense of Barangay Ginebra in Dubai last October 4 where they came storming back from a 28-point deficit to win in overtime, 113-111. Cruz, newly-acquired by NLEX in a trade with TNT, was the hero of the game after hitting a three to seal the win.
Another comeback victory came last November 10 when Cruz was once again the hero by scoring on a last gasp putback to lift NLEX to an 86-85 win over Magnolia at the Ynares Center, a win that enabled the Road Warriors to secure a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals.
Stunning defeat against NorthPort
NLEX was on the verge of a landmark conference in the 2019 Governors’ Cup. But its dreams of winning a title was derailed by a NorthPort squad eager to make a mark despite the odds after winning twice over the top-seeded Road Warriors in the quarterfinal round.
The upset put NLEX in the history books, becoming the fourth top-seed team in league history to lose to the No. 8 in the current playoff format of the league. NorthPort was able to force a rubber match when it won over NLEX in lopsided fashion, 115-90, before completing the upset in dramatic fashion.
The Road Warriors fell to the Batang Pier, 126-123, in triple overtime with Christian Standhardinger and Sean Anthony ending their title hopes prematurely in the season-ending conference.