MANAGEMENT of NLEX hopes the competitive spirit and respectable finish the Road Warriors achieved in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup would finally earn them the respect of league officials.
Team manager Ronald Dulatre stressed the point moments after the Road Warriors were eliminated from the Commissioner's Cup playoffs following a heartbreaking 91-85 overtime loss to the Meralco Bolts in a game that saw them lose grip of a huge 20-point lead.
While Dulatre admitted the NLEX meltdown had a lot to do with its early playoff exit, he also felt the ‘new kids on the block' factor also played a role in the loss.
“We're a new team, a rookie team. Let’s face it, even in the NBA may tinatawag na 'superstar calls.’ Siguro sa amin ganun din,” he said, obviously alluding to calls that didn't go their way especially at the height of Meralco’s huge comeback.
“Baligtad nga lang. Since bago kami, wala pa yung tinatawag na respeto sa amin ng referees."
"Pero sana naman with how our boys are playing, we will now earn the respect we deserve. We really wanted to have a Game Three of the series, kaya lang since tapos na iyong ibang series mukhang the Gods wanted to rest na this Holy Week," he added.
[See Fuming NLEX coach says 'we were robbed' after OT loss to Meralco]
Playing in their maiden playoff series, the Road Warriors were looking to stretch the quarterfinals series to a winner-take-all Game Three and appeared ready to pounce on the opportunity when they led by as many as 20 points in the third period.
But the moment the Bolts forged the overtime period, the Road Warriors unraveled and bowed out of contention.
Emotions were so high shortly after the game that a commotion ensued in the Araneta Coliseum hallway leading to the players’ dugout as some league officials claimed NLEX staffers and players tried to go after the referees, whom they accused of unfair officiating.
Dulatre was quick to deny the reports.
“Thats not true. Mataas boses namin. May nasabi kami sa kanila pero never namin sila nilapitan o ini-attempt na atakihin. The emotion was high at that time, but we will never do that. I have high respect for the commissioner (Chito Salud), and hope he will review the tape," the NLEX executive explained.
What he did disclose was how badly the team took the loss.
"Lahat ng tao sa loob ng dugout were very emotional, and really felt so down, masama ang loob. Lahat umiiyak. Ako nga na pilit nagpapatibay ng loob sa harap nila, nag-breakdown e," he said.
But Dulatre said the team is looking at the positive side of the things.
"We'll just focus on the positives. I know we'll be a stronger team in the next conference. We also need to gain some respect from game officials, we need to work harder, and continue to believe in our system.
"With a rookie team like us, nobody expected us to be included with the top teams in the Top Four - considering that this is only our maiden season," said Dulatre.
"This is six notches higher than our 10th place in the last conference. But again there are certain things which are beyond our control. It’s just so frustrating and unfair to the players who gave their best," he added.
For now, Dulatre hopes the upward trend of NLEX will continue in the season-ending Governors Cup as the Road Warriors try to bring their winning tradition in the D-League to the big league.
"We're moving on. We just need to continue to learn and work harder. We need to continue what we have built the past 2 conferences," he said.
"Yes this setback was so painful, but we'll use this as an extra motivation, look for opportunities to learn and improve, do better and prepare for the next conference," added the right hand man of NLEX president Rodrigo Franco.