Comeback kid Calvin Oftana's stunning fourth quarter lifts NLEX over Terrafirma

Calvin Oftana scored 18 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help NLEX Road Warriors beat Terrafirma Dyip 105-102 in the PBA Philippine Cup on Wednesday. PBA Media Bureau

Calvin Oftana's first game in nearly four months got off to a promising start.

He scored on a layup 90 seconds into Wednesday's NLEX-Terrafirma game -- the first points of the Road Warriors in the 2022-23 PBA season -- that cut the Dyip's early lead to 4-2.

That basket proved to be Oftana's lone highlight of the first three quarters as the No. 3 pick of last year's draft proceeded to miss his next six shots, going scoreless in the second and third quarters and posting a minus-7 in 27 minutes of playing time.

Worse, the Road Warriors found themselves staring at a 47-31 deficit at halftime, and although they climbed back into the contest with a 40-point third quarter, the Dyip were still ahead by five heading into the payoff period.

Luckily for NLEX, Oftana finally got going.

Yeng Guiao sent him back into the game to start the fourth quarter, and he scored on a putback after just 25 seconds that cut Terrafirma's lead to three. Oftana then scored seven of NLEX's next nine points to give the Road Warriors the lead for good at 83-80.

When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read 105-102 in NLEX's favor, with Oftana pouring in 18 of his 20 points in the fourth. He had given the Road Warriors the lift they needed to get past the pesky Dyip and open their Philippine Cup campaign with a huge win.

"Nag-adjust lang ako noong second half," Oftana said. "Bad flow na talaga ang nangyari noong first half. Kailangan ko lang mag-focus ulit, at kailangan din ng team ko ang tulong ko. Luckily, nakapag-adjust."

"I'm very happy with the way we won, because we saw the character of this team," Guiao said. "Kaya naming bumalik from 16 points (down)."

Guiao was especially pleased with Oftana, so much so that he was left wondering what could have been if his young forward had been healthy during their Governors' Cup semifinal series against eventual champion Barangay Ginebra.

"Ang laking bagay ni Calvin. On a good night, iyong bente (20 points), kayang kaya ni Calvin. So iyon ang na-miss namin against Ginebra in the semifinal series. Isang maganda pa kay Calvin, kaya niyang dumepensa ng uno (point guard) hanggang quatro (power forward)."

Oftana missed the second half of last season's Governors' Cup after fracturing his finger against Meralco on Feb. 11. He too wonders what could have happened if he had been on the court in the semifinals against Ginebra, which took the series 3-1 en route to winning it all.

"Oo naman, syempre," Oftana answered when asked if he thought about that series. "In my mind, I felt I could have helped the team. Maliliit na bagay. Depensa, rebounding."

Instead, Oftana had to rehabilitate his injured finger. That included one month of complete rest and no physical activity, which he spent in his hometown of Danao in Cebu.

"After the injury, I had a one-month rest kasi bawal galawin," he said. "Bawal akong mag outdoor work, bawal akong mag-jogging kasi bawal igalaw ang naka-cast na injury. After a month, bumalik ako dito. I had three weeks of rehabilitation. Training, shooting, skills work."

The long layoff, though, clearly affected Oftana in the first half as he tried to shake off the rust. He admitted his confidence was shot, and if it weren't for Guiao's belief in him, he might have contributed next to nothing.

"Nagbibigay talaga siya (Guiao) ng kumpyansa sa player niya," Oftana said of his coach who had the guts to send him back into the game at the start of the fourth despite his 1-for-7 shooting clip. "Ang nangyari sa first half ko, sobrang baba ng morale ko. But he kept putting me in the game."

He also got words of encouragement from Kevin Alas, who top-scored for the Road Warriors with 23 points.

"Calvin Oftana, NCAA MVP 'yan," Alas said, referencing Oftana's major individual award when he was the San Beda Red Lions' main man. "Kita niyo naman itong laro, I think he had 20 points.

"Of course, malaking bagay sa amin ang instant offense. We started flat kanina. Sabi ko sa kanya, 'Relax ka lang. Huwag kang manggigil'. Sa second half naman nakabawi siya. When he's playing his natural game, malaking tulong siya sa amin."

The Road Warriors will only have a day's rest before facing the San Miguel Beermen on Friday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.