PBA Commissioner’s Cup

Meltdown averted as Phoenix scores semis berth for franchise milestone

Delfin Dioquino

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Meltdown averted as Phoenix scores semis berth for franchise milestone

TOUGH SHOT. Jason Perkins in action for the Phoenix Fuel Masters in the 2023-24 PBA Commissioner's Cup.

PBA Images

Phoenix gets its act together this time as it reaches the semifinals of an import conference for the first time in franchise history by holding off Meralco in their do-or-die quarterfinal

MANILA, Philippines – As Phoenix head coach Jamike Jarin put it, “one is enough, two is too much.”

The Fuel Masters avoided another meltdown and completed the semifinal cast of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup after eking out an 88-84 win over Meralco in a do-or-die clash at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday, January 21.

Jason Perkins hit key buckets late as twice-to-beat Phoenix got its act together this time, having learned the hard way after frittering away a 15-point lead in its triple-overtime loss to the Bolts in their first quarterfinal encounter.

“These are the games that make you mature and these are the experiences that you will gain in these type of games. Experience is the best teacher,” said Jarin.

Perkins delivered 19 points and 13 rebounds, including 6 of the Fuel Masters’ 11 fourth-quarter points, as the team reached the semifinals of an import conference for the first time in franchise history.

Trailing 62-77 through the first three periods, Meralco went on a tear and opened the final frame on an 11-0 run capped by a three-point play by courageous forward Cliff Hodge, who played despite nursing an ankle injury.

Although Perkins ended the scoring drought for Phoenix, the Bolts continued to pounce and got within 81-85 with under 40 seconds left off another Hodge bucket.

But Perkins and Johnathan Williams sank crucial free throws down the stretch to send Phoenix – a young team that few people expected to go this far – to just its third final four appearance and first since the 2020 Philippine Cup.

“We’re not supposed to be here. Nobody predicted that we’ll be in the top four. We’re just happy to make it to the semifinals and we’ll continue to work harder, and hopefully, things will continue to fall our way,” said Jarin.

Dependable import Williams paced the Fuel Masters with 21 points and 16 rebounds, while RJ Jazul and rookie Kenneth Tuffin supplied 14 and 10 points, respectively.

Javee Mocon added 9 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals for Phoenix.

It is only bound to get tougher for the Fuel Masters, though.

Awaiting Phoenix in the best-of-five semifinals is top seed Magnolia, which has won 10 of its 12 games this conference.

“They are the favorites even before the start of the conference. We have our hands full,” said Jarin of the Hotshots.

Hodge showed the way for Meralco with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks in an admirable performance for a man who practically played on one foot.

Chris Newsome and Allein Maliksi fired 15 points each and combined for 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the loss that denied the Bolts a second straight semifinal stint.

The semifinals kick off on Wednesday, January 24, at the Araneta Coliseum, with sister teams Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel locking horns in the other final four pairing.

The Scores

Phoenix 88 – Williams 21, Perkins 19, Jazul 13, Tuffin 10, Mocon 9, Tio 6, Alejandro 4, Rivero 4, Garcia 2, Muyang 0, Manganti 0, Lalata 0, Daves 0, Verano 0, Camacho 0.

Meralco 84 – Newsome 15, Hodge 15, Maliksi 15, Miller 12, Quinto 11, Black 7, Banchero 7, Almazan 2, Rios 0, Pascual 0.

Quarters: 30-22, 55-43, 77-62, 88-84.

– Rappler.com

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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.