NLEX rode on the shoulders of an unheralded big man on the way to a first-ever PBA semis appearance.
Michael Miranda delivered big time in the clutch as he bailed the Road Warriors out of trouble in a stirring 87-83 win over the Alaska Aces for a two-game sweep of their Philippine Cup quarterfinal playoff on Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The former San Sebastian banger came off the bench and contributed 12 points, including five straight inside the final two minutes that turned the tide in favor of NLEX for good.
Coach Yeng Guiao, the one responsible for plucking the seldom-used Miranda from the Phoenix bench just before the season, wasn’t really surprised the 6-foot-6 third-year player came through for the Road Warriors with the outcome of the game on the line.
“I think Miranda was a potential just aching to expose himself if given a chance,” Guiao said of his cabalen. “He really rewarded the team by making the most out of the chance given to him.”
Miranda was grateful Guiao gambled on him following a rather uneventful stint with the Fuel Masters, where he found himself buried at the far end of the bench for most of the time last season.
“Dati nga hindi ako napapansin, kaya sinabi niya (Guiao) nga binibigyan niya ako ng break dito. So siyempre kailangan kong suklian yung binibigay nilang tiwala sa akin dito sa team,” said Miranda, who was 3-of-5 from the field and had three rebounds.
As if on cue, Miranda stepped up after veteran JR Quinahan was whistled for his sixth and last foul with 3:20 left in the game and NLEX trailing, 81-80.
Without its best big man on the floor, Guiao opted to field in Miranda in favor of the battle-tested centers Rabeh Al-Hussaini and 45-year-old Asi Taulava.
Miranda said he was up to the task.
“Siyempre andun yung pressure kasi crucial (moments), pero no choice si coach kasi ako na yung tinawag niya sa bench,” he said.
Promptly, he hit a three-pointer off a feed by rookie Kiefer Ravena to tie the game at 83. There was no hesitation on his part to fire away from the parking lot or else face the ire of the NLEX coach.
“Kasi kay coach Yeng naman, pag open ka itira mo na, kasi mas magagalit pa siya sa iyo pag hindi mo tinira yung bola,” said Miranda.
Moments after, he stepped in the free throw line and sank both charities that put the Road Warriors on top to stay, 85-83, with 2:06 left.
Kevin Alas then preserved the win for NLEX after converting a basket off a double-pump to cap a closing 6-0 run by the team.
Miranda, picked in the second round (at No. 21 overall) by Barako Bull in the 2015 draft, admitted his confidence level is on an all-time high especially with him playing in the semis for the first time together with the Road Warriors.
But perhaps there’s no other person truly happy for Miranda than Guiao himself.
“His is the story of a lot of players. A lot of players are languishing on the bench, but when you give them a break, they will step up and they will prove themselves,” said the champion mentor.
“And that’s the example of Mike Miranda.”