With a 106-99 win over the NLEX Road Warriors Friday night, the Mahindra Enforcers have tied the franchise’s best start in a conference.
Mahindra is now 3-1 in the team standings, beating quality opponents earlier in Globalport and San Miguel — which both made the semi-finals of the Philippine Cup — while experiencing its lone setback against an also-improved Blackwater side.
Challenges came along the way of the Enforcers’ strong start in the Commissioner’s Cup, and unlike in the last conference where the team seemed to flounder towards the end of each game, Mahindra showed up as an even better and more prepared crew each time this conference.
Mahindra led by as much as 12 against NLEX, before the Road Warriors tried to steal the match after a barrage of threes in the fourth quarter.
NLEX led 88-85, but the Enforcers once again closed the game strong, showing more maturity in pressure-packed situations.
“It’s a matter of believing in ourselves. We worked hard in practice, we stayed together kahit anong mangyari. Noong first conference, marami kaming close game na natatalo but we are learning. That is the best teacher, experience. Nadadala namin sa second conference yun,” associate head coach Chito Victolero said.
Augustus Gilchrist led the balanced effort with 30 points and 10 rebounds, while five more scored in double-digits for Mahindra. KG Canaleta scored 21 points while Chito Jaime added a career-high 15 points.
Such depth, coupled with solid chemistry on the floor, makes the Enforcers an even tougher unit to deal with.
“My key players are stepping up and even the bench, they know they will be playing some minutes and they step up. It’s about the system,” Victolero added.
“Sa offseason, binigyan ko ng pansin sa mga players ko. Last conference, yung problema namin, nara-rattle kami. Now, we stay composed, we stopped their run and kami naman ang nagrun.”
With a more mature group believing in each other this time, the Enforcers are starting to dream bigger dreams.
“Yes, especially expectations sa sarili namin, sa team, everyone,” point guard LA Revilla said when asked about whether expectations are beginning to become higher for the squad.
“Most of the guys here, the core siguro, have been playing (together) for one year, so it’s good. We just continue to grow. Kung ano mga pagkakamali namin in the last conferences, we just try to stick on that. Yun yung nagiging battlecry namin, we want to improve. Everyone is capable of that (maturity).”
At 3-1, Mahindra already has more wins than in their campaign last conference, and are three more wins away from setting its best elimination round record in a conference.
Expectations are growing for the determined squad which is trying to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. And being among the top teams early in the conference is the only way it should be, as the Enforcers are now reaping the fruits of their collective efforts.
“Siguro naging mature na rin ang players. They know how to win and close games. I think mas focused and aggressive sila ngayon. Mas may gusto silang patunayan,” Victolero said.