The AUF Arena (PBA Images)

SMART CLARK GIGA CITY–If there’s one thing that NLEX coach Yeng Guiao would forever cherish from the historic PBA bubble season, it’s the camaraderie that developed not just within his team but also the entire league. 

“It’s not just we got closer as a team, but we got closer as a league,” said Guiao, whose Road Warriors made their last hurrah with a 127-101 victory over fellow also-ran Terrafirma on Wednesday at the Angeles University Foundation Arena. 

For Guiao, one of the prime movers of the multi-million Philippine Cup restart here in Pampanga, it’s already a big challenge to be away from family and live with the team for more than a month in a highly contained zone. 

What more with 11 other teams? 

“Kung labindalawang team kayo living together also, I guess you’re also put in a situation where you have to live harmoniously with the rest of the 11 other teams,” he said. “Pwede pala magsama-sama ang 12 teams nang one month without any violent reactions.” 

“It’s the first time that it happened and you don’t only get closer to the team, you also get closer to the other people you see in the corridor, in the elevator, the gym. You see them every day. You got to do some small talk with them,” he continued. 

“It’s the commonality of the love for the game that binds us altogether that’s why we’re here. That’s a takeaway, a realization that I’ve been able to process for more than a month.” 

NLEX (5-6) is set to leave the bubble together with Terrafirma (1-10), NorthPort (1-9) and Blackwater (2-8), with the two latter teams still playing their final assignments at press time.  

NorthPort, which was touted as a playoff contender this season with Christian Standhardinger and Sean Anthony at the forefront, did not meet the pre-season expectations as injuries and a crucial referee call marred its campaign. 

Pido Jarencio’s Batang Pier entered the bubble without its ace guard Robert Bolick (recovering from an ACL injury when the season started) while Jonathan Grey (patellar tendon) did not suit up in any game and Anthony (hamstring) missed several games. 

A wrong call by referee Sherwin Pineda led to a 70-68 loss to Rain or Shine on October 18 and it was downhill from there for Jarencio’s side. Pineda was relieved of his duties while the Batang Pier only won a single game (107-96 vs Terrafirma) since then. 

“Learn from this bubble experience. Bawi na lang next year,” said Jarencio, who also bared that Garvo Lanete and Paolo Taha were playing through injuries. 

“(I’m) not sour-graping pero yun ang destiny natin dito. Bawi na lang siguro. Pagbawi natin  mas malakas ang dating,” he added. 

Terrafirma was also underwhelming this season despite having top pick Roosevelt Adams to complement last season’s Rookie of the Year and scoring champion CJ Perez. 

Coach Johnedel Cardel said they have nothing to do now but learn from their short-lived bubble journey. 

“Out of timing talaga kami nung pumasok dito. At syempre naunahan na rin ng mga talo,” said Cardel, whose Dyip went through a seven-game losing skid before winning their first game (110-101 vs Blackwater) on November 6. 

For its part, Blackwater actually enjoyed a 2-1 start but had its momentum stopped after two “false positive” cases rocked the league. 

The first case was a referee who was found out to have officiated in the Elite’s game against the Alaska Aces. Days later, one of their players became the second case. 

Both later tested negative on antigen and confirmatory RT-PCR tests, but the IATF and DOH still instructed the league to postpone its games and only resume upon complying with new protocols. 

That series of events compelled coach Nash Racela’s Blackwater to play six games in just nine days as the league came up with a compressed schedule following a four-day postponement. 

Source: Manila Bulletin (