It is a common sight to see Kiefer Ravena to look for more even after getting drenched in sweat from an intense three-hour practice. Whether it's wearing a Gilas uniform or an NLEX Road Warriors jersey, Ravena is always eyeing a challenge, an opportunity to get better.
Because of this, he regularly engages teammates and friends in 1-on-1 matches. During the build up to the 2017 SEA Games, Ravena's regular opponent was Blackwater Elite forward Raymar Jose. While teammates were already icing down, or taking pictures with fans, the two were still going at each other, pushing each other to be better.
There is also an added benefit to those battles - you get to learn more about your opponent's tendencies on both offense and defense. Each player has their own signature go-to move, as well as advantages on the defensive end that can be studied and countered.
Kiefer knows this. He also makes sure that matchup is an opportunity to get better. When he was in college and teammates with Meralco Bolts forward Chris Newsome, Ravena would always challenge the high-flying and athletic combo guard.
Those battles happened behind close doors, away from prying crowds. But on a Friday night in the Cuneta Astrodome, everyone got a taste of how those battles might have played out.
"I know Chris a lot. He got me on that move," Ravena said shaking his head. "That's why I shook my head when he attacked, because i knew he was gonna make it."
The number two overall pick was referring to Newsome's basket that tied the game at 83-all with 15 seconds remaining.
The Bolts had all their shooters on the floor for this crucial set. They overloaded the left side of the court, as Garvo Lanete and KG Canaleta were shadowed by Larry Fonacier and Alex Mallari. The two were threats to knock it down from long distance, so Coach Norman Black had the two there for options. Canaleta could give a screen for Lanete to pop free for a three, and vice versa.
NLEX was expecting off-ball action from the Bolts shooters, but the inbounding Baser Amer didn't go to them. Instead, the ball goes to Reynel Hugnatan at the top of the key.
The veteran didn't force the issue. Instead he rotated it to Newsome, who now had Ravena on an island. With Meralco's set play, it became a virtual 1-on-1 match between these two talented scorers. Quiñahan couldn't leave Hugnatan because he's a threat to pop open for three. Give credit to Newsome for not jacking up a jumper. With no hesitation, he attacked Ravena.
Not only did Newsome get the basket, he was also able to fish a foul from Kiefer. He sank the free throw and tied the game at 85-all. "For me, it was just bad defensive lapse," Ravena admitted. "I didn't want to let my teammates down."
The Bolts achieved their objective, which was to even things up with a quick basket. The only negative was the 15 seconds left on the clock. That was more than enough time for NLEX to run their offense, and get it in the hands of their closer. And despite only playing in his eighth PBA game, Ravena was called upon by NLEX coach Yeng Guiao to perform under duress.
And what did Kiefer do in the moment? He became phenomenal.
Kiefer sized up Newsome and attacked left. Newsome was there. Ravena countered with what looks like a span to the right. Newsome adjusted and closed off the right. But Kiefer was one step ahead of him. His half spin gave him enough space to rise over the outstretched arms of Newsome. A sliver of space was all Ravena needed to rise up and nail the dagger before being mobbed by his fans in center court.
"With the move, it comes with the flow how the defense plays," Ravena said about his jumper over Newsome to seal NLEX's fourth win of the season. "As coach Yeng says, you have to play with what the defense is giving you. When the defender closes one side, you have to learn. It comes with repetition. You work hard for it."
Ravena hit the big shot, but he didn't do it alone. The trust, confidence and faith NLEX had in Ravena was unwavering. And that motivated him to come up big in the clutch.
"It's a big thing that Coach Yeng has a lot of confidence in me," Ravena shared. "I shot 8% [vs Barangay Ginebra], probably the worst I've shot in my life the last game, though we won. But for me, it's all about the wins and the confidence they have in me, shooting that bad, but still entrusting in me the game. How can you not have confidence? I feed off that."
The shots will not fall all the time. Ravena's ice-cold game against Ginebra, including an attempted pull-up to ice the game that bricked harmlessly off center proved this. But Kiefer's mentality moves him to keep shooting. Whether it's 1-on-1 alone in a gym, or on center stage against one of the best defenders in the PBA, Ravena will never shy away from the shot.
"With the confidence they have, it just keeps growing every time my teammates and coaching staff believe in me. And I wouldn't have made that shot without their confidence."