NLEX rallies late to stun misfiring Beermen
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – With the clock hitting the 2:30 mark of the fourth quarter and the game tied at 88, Macmac Cardona let out a scream heard up to the bleachers of the aged and historic Cuneta Astrodome:
“Gusto ko na manalo!”
(I want to win!)
It was hard not to blame him. His NLEX Road Warriors had just rallied from a 21-point deficit. A victory was within grasp, and with it, a stronger hope of contending for the playoffs of the 2015 PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Cardona was on the bench, so all he could do was cheer on his tired teammates, who were facing another potential heartbreak.
Fortunately for him, they didn’t let him down.
“This win, again, as what I’ve said always, it’s not on me, it’s on the players,” NLEX head coach Boyet Fernandez declared following his team’s 100-93 victory over the San Miguel Beermen on Tuesday, February 24.
“I credit the game to all the players who played in the second half. Their effort was really unbelievable.”
The Road Warriors scored at will in the fourth quarter, putting up 42 points in the 12-minute stretch. A load of their late rally was thanks to the strong play of import Al Thornton, who put up 30 points and 12 rebounds for the game, and Jonas Villanueva, who finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
San Miguel, who led 75-58 to start the final period, got 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists from import Arizona Reid. Arwind Santos scored 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting, grabbed 7 boards, and dished out 4 assists.
The Road Warriors’ slow start, wherein they trailed by 12 after the first period and 13 at the half, was similar to the way they opened against the Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters in their last game.
“Probably it’s more of the mental state of the players,” Fernandez said about his club’s second consecutive lackadaisical beginning. I just insist on them that they have to believe in themselves.”
NLEX rallied from a 29-point deficit and tied the game against TNT, but lost at the endgame to a Jayson Castro game-winner. Against SMB, the reigning Philippine Cup champions, the Road Warriors made sure not to give Reid or Santos a crack at a buzzer-beater.
“Sabi nga ni sir, parang Talk ’N Text ulit (it was like Talk ’N Text all over again), but at least we came out as winners tonight. Again, I do thank the lord for this.”
The momentum of the game tilted to NLEX’s favor when they went to a zone defense and tried to force quick turnovers, according to Fernandez.
“We pressed and played zone. I’m just happy that the San Miguel boys didn’t make their 3-point shots… we limited their attacks in the post.”
A 3-pointer by KG Canaleta and three straight free throws by Thornton sliced the SMB lead to 6, 85-79, in the fourth period. A few minutes later, consecutive baskets by Mark Borboran gave his team their first taste of the lead in the second half, 86-85.
Chris Lutz, who compiled 10 points overall, quickly countered with a triple to momentarily let the Beermen regain the lead, but free throws by Villanueva knotted the contest at 88 apiece not long after.
After the clock hit the 2:30 mark, Thornton attacked MVP June Mar Fajardo’s defense and drew a foul, leading to two charities. Following a missed 3-pointer by the Beermen down on the next play, Villanueva converted a wide-open 3-ball from the wing.
San Miguel then went a stretch of missing four straight 3-pointers, all of which took place while Fajardo was on the bench. On the next Road Warriors possession, Thornton hit a triple to seal his team’s second win in six games.
SMB, meanwhile, fell to 1-5, and will have to go a perfect 5-0 in their remaining games - or at least close to it - against Purefoods, Barako Bull, Rain or Shine, Talk ’N Text, and GlobalPort for a realistic shot at one of the eight available playoff seeds.
NLEX finished shooting 46% from the field despite going just 6-of-22 from 3-point range. They also went 24-of-31 from the charity stripe, good for 77%, but their head coach wants to see improvement.
“For me, we have to make our free throws - Jonas missed three (3-of-6). At the end, we just made stops, that’s why we won the game.”
Despite being the taller team, SMB lost in the rebound battle, 51-43. Fajardo grabbed 9 boards, but put up only 10 points on 11 shots. Doug Kramer registered 15 points in 19:23 minutes.
Asi Taulava was also splendid for NLEX on Tuesday, racking up 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals in 32 minutes.
NLEX (100) - Thornton 30, Taulava 20, J. Villanueva 15, Cardona 9, Borboran 8, Canaleta 6, Lingganay 6, E. Villanueva 2, Ramos 2, Apinan 2, Raymundo 0, H. Arboleda 0
San Miguel (93) - Reid 27, Santos 20, Kramer 15, Lutz 10, Fajardo 10, Cabagnot 6, Ross 2, Lassiter 2, Tubid 1
Quarter Scoring: 14-26, 33-46, 58-75, 100-93– Rappler.com