Burly import Pierre Henderson-Niles’ familiarity with Alaska counterpart Rob Dozier, his close friend, immediately worked wonders in favor of Rain or Shine.
The 6-foot-9 Dozier won their head-to-head battle with a career-best 41-point explosion but Henderson-Niles had the last laugh on Friday night when the Elasto Painters carved out a 105-97 victory over the Aces in Game 1 of their best-of-seven PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals showdown at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Proving why he’s a former Best Import awardee, Dozier knocked down 18 of his 22 attempts from the field, including four triples, aside from collecting 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocks against three errors as he single-handedly carried the fight for an under-strength Aces side which continued to miss the services of top playmaker JVee Casio and bruiser Vic Manuel.
Henderson-Niles, Dozier’s former college teammate at University of Memphis, didn’t fare well in their import match-up, coming up with just six points in seven attempts on top of 13 boards, three steals and a dime against four errors.
But that’s the least of Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao’s concern as Henderson-Niles did what was expected of him in the payoff period: contain Dozier.
“Dozier played a great game for them. Parang ayaw mag-mintis sa first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, he started to miss shots. And he missed shots when Pierre was guarding him,” said Guiao, 57, pleased with his crucial defensive adjustment.
“I know they have been teammates (back in college) so he (Henderson-Niles) might have been familiar with the way he (Dozier) plays. When Pierre started guarding him, that’s the time he missed some shots. When our locals were guarding him, halos hindi mag-mintis. Isa lang (out of 10 shots) nu’ng first half,” he added.
Although he got the job done in terms of his task against Dozier, Henderson-Niles felt they could have made a better defensive effort collectively.
“Our defense wasn’t our normal defense,” he said. “It’s like we got a little tired. I think we played good defense other than on Rob scoring 41. Like I said, Rob hit 41 points tonight. That’s (nearly) half of their points. If we contain Rob, we’ll be alright.”
Henderson-Niles, however, could not help but tip his hat to Dozier. “He had an unbelievable game. I have seen Rob playing like that before. He made shots. He’s been able to take threes but not like what he’s been doing now. He’s not missing shots. I guess he’s been practicing those and he’s been doing good. Everything’s falling for him,” he said.
With Henderson-Niles guarding Dozier proving to be effective in the opener, Guiao said he might continue doing that ploy in Sunday’s Game 2 while adding the need for his local big men to rise to the challenge.
“I feel pretty confident that Pierre is quick enough to stay with him. And I think because he’s familiar with Dozier, he’s able to anticipate his moves. That’s gonna give more more confidence to play Pierre against him in the next games. And that’s usually gonna happen in the fourth quarter,” he said.
“But I need our locals to defend him and I’m hoping he doesn’t shoot that well in Game 2,” Guiao concluded. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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