MANILA, Philippines – As talented as NLEX import Earl Clark is, he appeared headed for an early vacation as the Road Warriors struggled to produce wins.
But Clark refused to let NLEX get the boot and showed the way in a come-from-behind 92-81 win over Meralco on Wednesday, November 30, that kept them in the hunt for a quarterfinal berth in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
The former NBA player delivered 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks as the Road Warriors climbed to ninth place with a 5-7 record to end the elimination round.
NLEX now needs No. 8 Rain or Shine (5-6) to lose its last game against second seed Magnolia in order to set up a knockout match for the last playoff spot.
“I’m dying for the playoffs,” said Clark, who averaged 31.9 points, 15.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.4 blocks, and 1.4 steals in 12 games.
“Once we got the opportunity, I was super hyped. I couldn’t sleep last night. I’m just glad we got the win. It’s much better coming down from 18. It’s a pretty good win.”
Off to a promising 2-0 start, the Road Warriors found themselves removed from the playoff picture after losing seven of their next eight games, including five straight, to fall to 3-7.
But NLEX snapped its skid and pumped life into its quarterfinal bid with a massive 120-117 upset of Ginebra, a victory where Clark drained the shot that forced overtime and finished with 37 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 assists.
Against the Bolts, the Road Warriors erased an 18-point halftime deficit before Clark delivered the goods late, scattering 10 points in the win-clinching 18-4 run.
The 34-year-old forward said a fiery pep talk from NLEX head coach Frankie Lim sparked the Road Warriors’ second-half turnaround.
“Coach got on our ass and told us that we need to step it up. We were playing soft, we weren’t playing like there was no tomorrow, we were playing like it was the beginning of the season, and it wasn’t a do-or-die game,” said Clark.
“We came out, we tried to answer the call, and that’s what we did.”
For Clark, NLEX is finally hitting its stride after its mid-conference woes.
“I think if you come to our practice, you’ll say we’re the best team in the league. We compete every day, we play a lot of games that are competitive, and I think it’s finally transferring over,” he said.
The Road Warriors play the waiting game as the Elasto Painters face the Hotshots on Friday, December 2, at the PhilSports Arena. – Rappler.com