NLEX sinks KIA to end eliminations on positive note
MANILA, Philippines — Even if it was a no-bearing game, the playoff-bound NLEX Road Warriors relished the opportunity to end the elimination round on a high note and build momentum heading into the quarterfinals of the 2015 Philippine Cup.
With big man Asi Taulava exploiting the mismatch and scattering 19 points, NLEX withstood a late fightback from KIA Sorento and slipped past the expansion team, 88-80, to stop their 3-game losing slide on Sunday, December 7 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Taulava also hauled down 14 rebounds to register his 6th double-double outing this conference. He is one of only 4 players with at least 6 double-double productions in the Philippine Cup, according to PBA Head Statistician Fidel Mangonon III. The 3 others being reigning MVP June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, and Calvin Abueva.
KG Canaleta also came up with a conference-high 16 points on 3-of-5 three-point shooting as NLEX wrapped up its first elimination round in the PBA with a 4-7 slate.
"We're happy we stopped the bleeding," head coach Boyet Fernandez said. "We're happy we're over the hump."
Aldrech Ramos and Enrico Villanueva added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Road Warriors, who also out-rebounded the Sorento by 54-40.
NLEX is on a collision course with the third-ranked team in the league come the quarterfinals and will be at a twice-to-beat disadvantage.
Fernandez wants to use the positive end to the eliminations as a springboard to snatch at least one win in the playoffs.
"We're hoping this win will give us a little bit of confidence heading into the quarterfinals," Fernandez said.
"I hope when we play whoever we're gonna play we can make the game close in the end and get some defensive stops and hopefully we can win."
After keeping in step with the Road Warriors all game long, the Sorento came to within 75-76 with 4:32 left to play courtesy of back-to-back triples from Reil Cervantes.
But a couple of crucial turnovers and key free throws from NLEX put the game out of reach for KIA, who played sans its playing coach Manny Pacquiao due to his flight getting cancelled as a result of Typhoon Ruby currently ravaging Visayas.
Cervantes dropped a career-high 34 points on top of 7 rebounds to lead KIA. He exploded for 17 markers in the fourth as the Sorento climbed back from a 10-point hole early in that quarter.
Virgil Buensuceso added 18 points while Hyram Bagatsing chipped in 11.
KIA finished its first PBA conference on a 10-game losing skid after winnings its opening day game versus Blackwater.
NLEX (88): Taulava 19, Canaleta 16, Ramos 11, Villanueva E. 10, Cardona 7, Villanueva J. 7, Borboran 6, Baloria 4, Camson 3, Arboleda H. 3, Lingganay 2, Raymundo 0, Apinan 0, Arboleda W. 0.
KIA (80): Cervantes 34, Buensuceso 18, Bagatsing 11, Custodio 5, Thiele 3, Burtscher 3, Poligrates 2, Revilla 2, Pascual 2, Ighalo 0, Dehesa 0, Webb 0, Alvarez 0, Bartolo 0.
Quarter scores: 21-25, 40-42, 62-57, 88-80.