The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters welcomed back their head coach Yeng Guiao after a six-year stint with the NLEX Road Warriors with a strong opening run in their 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup debut.
Rain or Shine, coincidentally matched up against Guiao’s former NLEX side, came out energized and built a 12-point lead, 32-20, by the early goings of the second quarter.
However, that proved to be the pinnacle of the evening for them.
The Elasto Painters’ momentum all but dried up from that point on as the Road Warriors patiently crawled back into the game before zooming ahead towards the end of the third quarter. NLEX did not look back and proceeded to take a 14-point lead on two occasions in the fourth quarter. They then secured a 96-90 win to kick off the new conference with a gritty win.
The Road Warriors banked on their defense in the victory, highlighted by the 13 blocked shots that they recorded as a team compared to the mere two that Rain or Shine had. Their import Earl Clark and newly-acquired center Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser had 11 of those blocks as they had six and five, respectively, and controlled the paint with impunity.
Clark also had 26 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, four steals, and six blocks as he shook off a slow start and poor shooting night (nine-of-21 field goal shooting) to lead the Road Warriors to victory.
He received ample support from his local teammates as four of them contributed at least 12 points. Justin Chua played a crucial role for them down the stretch, scoring eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. The 33-year-old veteran also had eight rebounds, two assists, and a steal in his 25 minutes as a reserve.
The outside touch of Chua, who hit three of his six three-point attempts during the contest, was crucial for NLEX’s spacing around Clark and he should continue playing a major role for them this season.
Kevin Alas came off the bench as well to score 15 points, grab seven rebounds, and hand out four assists. Meanwhile, starters Matt Nieto and Don Trollano chipped in with 12 points apiece. The 25-year-old Nieto also added five assists and four steals as he won his match-up against his brother Mike of the Elasto Painters.
One of the brightest spots for the Road Warriors was Ganuelas-Rosser who was recently acquired in the three-way trade that sent away rising star Calvin Oftana. Though he only scored four points, the first overall pick of the 2022 PBA Draft grabbed 10 rebounds in addition to the aforementioned five blocks that he recorded in only 20 minutes of action.
The 28-year-old center ran circles around his flat footed Rain or Shine counterparts as his relentless hustle was a significant difference maker for NLEX. If he can play with this kind of motor on a nightly basis as Clark’s primary back-up, the Road Warriors could be a surprise team in this conference driven by their elite rim protection.
The remaining veterans that they have, particularly Alas and Trollano, should be a boost too while the accelerated development of Nieto may be what ultimately increases this team’s ceiling.
NLEX may have lost the leadership of Guiao and the talents of Oftana, but many talented players remain on this roster and it will not come as a surprise if they can eventually sneak back into the semifinals of this conference just like last season’s Governor’s Cup.