Yeng Guiao sounded like a coach trying to make sense of showing up for quarterfinal match that he feels Rain or Shine has little hopes of winning.
The best he could muster was “we’ll try to stay in [the game] as long as we can.”
One of his gunners, Rey Nambatac managed to dig up some trite form of optimism.
“Bilog ang bola (the ball is round),” Nambatac said, rehashing that overused basketball soundbite that generally means anything can happen. “That is surely a David and Goliath kind of game. But nothing is impossible [if] we try.”
The feeling of dread came after Rain or Shine survived a tough knockout match against NLEX, 110-100, late Sunday night to lay claim to the No. 8 seed—the last playoff seat in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup.
Guiao has scaled mountains before, but the fiery champion coach feels there’s nothing as colossal as the prize he picked up along the way: A showdown against top seed Bay Area.
“I don’t think you can have a good enough preparation against a team like that,” he said.
“They have an advantage in every aspect: Import, height and cohesion. They’ve been together in a hotel. I mean, their camaraderie and their chemistry should be off the charts. And I couldn’t think of any strategy that will work against that. I don’t even know how we’re going to beat them. They’re just too strong,” Guiao added.
And as if that strength—which has pushed the Dragons head and shoulders above the entire league—isn’t daunting enough, Rain or Shine can’t even celebrate an upset victory. The Elasto Painters need to win twice consecutively to eliminate Bay Area because of the latter’s twice-to-beat protection.
The Dragons have been nothing but mighty throughout the midseason showcase, racking up 10 wins in the elimination phase and winning games by a margin of 23.4 points.
Guiao, a former national coach, also pointed out how Bay Area’s constitution is an organic edge that PBA teams cannot match.
“[The Dragons] are a selection, they’re not a team,” he rued. “How many years did they wait to draft someone like Kobey Lam? How many years did it take for them to draft Zhu [Songwei]? And, who’s that again, their 7-foot-5 player? Liu [Chuanxing].
“Here, we wait [for years]. For them, it’s instant. When they arrived, they were complete. Before we can have a complete team, we have to wait for years. [The league] could’ve allowed us to use two imports to make things interesting because whenever [local teams] play them, it’s a blowout. They beat us by 50, 30 points. We’re being embarrassed in our own league,” Guiao added.
‘We wanted this’
Of the 10 clubs Bay Area took down, five were won by 25 points or more: Terrafirma (54 points), Blackwater (46) TNT (32) and San Miguel Beer (26). The fifth? Guiao’s Painters, who were crushed by 33 points.
Bay Area lost only twice, to crowd darling Barangay Ginebra, and a KJ McDaniels-powered Meralco. The Dragons lead the league in scoring with an average of 111.9 points. But they have proven to be quite fearsome on defense as well, allowing an average of just 94.2 points, second only to Magnolia.
“There are just inherent advantages that you can’t [manufacture] through a game plan—like size, right?” Guiao said.
But Guiao could have just given up and yielded the last quarterfinals seat to the Road Warriors and have them deal with trying to slay the Dragons.
And, as Nambatac pointed out, they didn’t.
“We wanted this,” he said. “We have five days to prepare.” INQ
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