MANILA, Philippines – Since the opening of the 2014-2015 PBA Philippine Cup, Macmac Cardona has looked more fit and explosive than he did all of last season with the Air21 Express.
On Wednesday, October 29, Cardona’s improved performance was in full display as he finished 25 points and 6 rebounds to lead his new team, the NLEX Road Warriors, past Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 97-81, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Cardona’s strong play helped give NLEX head coach Boyet Fernandez his first victory with the Road Warriors franchise, which bought Air21 after last PBA season.
“First of all it’s nice to be back,” Fernandez said after the game. He later added: “This win is not really on me, it’s really on the boys.”
Jonas Villanueva also had an outstanding game, finishing with 14 points and 7 assists while big man Asi Taulava put up 9 points despite being limited to 2 rebounds. KG Canaleta and Aldrech Ramos had 13 and 10 markers, respectively.
NLEX improves to 2-1, which is also the same record Ginebra now owns after losing for the first time in three games this conference.
“We thought that if we could pressure the basketball, then they could not execute the Triangle Offense,” Fernandez said about his team’s defense, which forced 19 Ginebra turnovers that led to as many NLEX points.
“I really do thank my players who bought in with the gameplan,” he later said.
“We’ll not settle with this win. We’ll have to improve and look forward.”
Chris Ellis finished with 19 points, most coming in the third quarter. After scoring 15 markers in the first half, Japeth Aguilar was limited to just two more points in the game’s final two quarters. Greg Slaughter registered 13 points and 15 rebounds.
After Ellis scored 10 of his total points in the late stretches of the third quarter to help give Ginebra a four-point lead entering the fourth period, it looked like the Road Warriors were en route to suffering a second straight defeat – especially with the crowd and momentum on their opponents’ side.
But thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from Canaleta, NLEX quickly re-took the lead at 71-70, kick-starting a 9-0 run that saw their lead go up to five, 76-71, following a Villanueva basket.
A split at the free throw line by Slaughter stopped the bleeding for Ginebra momentarily, but he was quickly countered by Taulava who used his shoulder to put the former no. 1 overall pick on the floor and get an easy attempt at the rim.
In the subsequent Road Warriors possession, Villanueva hit a 3-ball, extending his team’s lead to 81-72. Ginebra sliced the deficit down to seven, but four straight points from Cardona made the count 85-74. Not long after, back-to-back triples from Ramos and Canaleta increased NLEX’s lead to 14 with less than two minutes to go, sealing the victory.
NLEX shot 53% from the field and 33% from downtown, while making 9 of their 12 free throw attempts. Ginebra had more rebounds, 44-35, and more assists, 19-12, than their opponents, but failed to contain the Road Warriors inside presence, giving up 52 points in the paint.
Cardona and company did a good job of taking care of the ball, coughing up turnovers only nine times that resulted to 8 Ginebra points. After scoring just 18 and 16 points in the first and second quarters, respectively, NLEX put up 28 and 35 markers in the final two periods.
Both teams entered the third quarter tied at 34 and exchanged baskets for majority of the period until Ellis caught fire.
With the game tied at 54, Ellis was left free on the break and converted a tough layup, plus the foul, to put his team ahead by three. The basket seemed to get the Ginebra wingman going because after Cardona and Mark Caguioa exchanged baskets following his shot, Ellis managed to draw a foul on an attack to the rim and scored again at the free throw line to make the count 61-56.
Sensing a big Ginebra run on the horizon, NLEX answered by getting a couple of baskets in the post to trim the lead back down to one. But on the defensive end, they were unable to contain Ellis, who hit a 3-ball and another breakaway layup before the third quarter came to a close.
NLEX (97): Cardona 25, Villanueva Jonas 14, Canaleta 13, Ramos 10, Apinan 10, Taulava 9, Baloria 8, Borboran 6, Raymundo 2, Poligrates 0, Camson 0, Villanueva Enrico 0, Villarias 0.
Ginebra (81): Ellis 19, Aguilar 17, Slaughter 13, Caguioa 8, Mamaril 6, Tenorio 4, Urbiztondo 3, Helterbrand 3, Yeo 3, Baracael 3, Brondial 2, Monfort 0, Forrester 0, Reyes 0.
Quarter scores: 18-20, 34-34, 62-66, 97-81
Here are some images of the game taken by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images
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