Yeng Guiao and the NLEX Road Warriors were aiming for a top four finish and the twice-to-beat advantage at the start of the conference. Now, after clobbering Rain or Shine, 111-91, on Wednesday at the Cuneta Astrodome, NLEX grabbed the lead in the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup.
"We never dreamed about being No. 1 this conference," Guiao said after the game.
The Road Warriors, at 7-1, have the same record as TNT KaTropa, but hold the tie-breaker because of the win-over-the-other rule.
"I hope we can hold on to it. The important thing is to get to the top four. But if it's there, we'll take it," he said.
NLEX had a slow start, but gained steam in the third quarter and continued to roll from there.
Behind Manny Harris, who put up a triple-double with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, the Road Warriors bunched together a furious 17-4 run to start the third quarter, 68-53.
They padded the lead to as much as 23 points, refusing to give the Elasto Painters an inch the rest of the way, and continued to a fourth straight victory.
Jericho Cruz shot three 3s on his way to 13 points, while Poy Erram and Kiefer Ravena combined for 24 points and 11 rebounds. Raul Soyud and JR Quinahan had 10 points each.
"Good thing we woke up in the second half," said Guiao. "We're not focused mentally [in the first two quarters] ... we got into our flow and got our momentum going in the second half."
New Rain or Shine import Richard Ross had 20 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. His debut was spoiled after getting into foul trouble.
"Rain or Shine is a dangerous team. The import is the right fit for them," said Guiao.
Ross, the Elasto Painters' fourth import this conference, was brought in only three days ago after Kwame Alexander sustained a sprained ankle. He played for Old Dominion in the NCAA and had stints in Norway and Luxembourg after going undrafted in the 2015 NBA Draft.
His last tour of action was in China, where he played for Anhui Putian in the country's National Basketball League.
"Obviously it didn't go how I would have liked. Would have liked to get a win, but everything's always a learning experience. I got to learn about the league, the do's and the don'ts, the officiating, how to pick your spots and what to do. But all in all, I enjoyed being out there with my teammates. They're a good group of guys, they get me involved, they talk to me," Ross said.
It's been an adjustment period so far for the new reinforcement, who acknowledged that he had to scale down his aggressiveness on the defensive end.
"[I'm] trying not to pick up fouls. I was picking up a lot of fouls that I shouldn't have, you know. Cheap fouls where I probably should have gotten out of the way. That kept me off the court a bit, but you know, sometimes that's just how the ball rolls. It just goes that way sometimes," he said.
Rain or Shine will continue searching for answers as it fell to 2-7. They are hard-pressed to win the last two games to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
"My goal is just to do the best I can, do everything I can to help this team to give them a chance to make it to the next round. It's an uphill battle, but it's still not completely over. We still got a chance. As long as there's a chance, I'm gonna keep fighting for it," said Ross.
NLEX 111 - Harris 29, Cruz 13, Erram 12, Ravena 12, Quinahan 10, Soyud 10, Paniamogan 9, Miranda 6, Fonacier 3, Lao 3, Galanza 2, Taulava 2, Ighalo 0, Varilla 0.
Rain or Shine 91 - Ross 20, Mocon 17, Ponferada 13, Rosales 10, Belga 7, Onwubere 6, Norwood 4, Daquioag 4, Borboran 3, Exciminiano 3, Torres 2, Alejandro 2.
Quarterscores: 23-27, 51-49, 83-65, 111-91.
- James Yap and Rey Nambatac didn't play for RoS. The two are still nursing injuries.
NLEX - vs Magnolia on November 10 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo
Rain or Shine - vs San Miguel on November 9 at the Hoops Dome in Lapu Lapu, Cebu