MANILA, Philippines – NLEX nearly blew a humongous lead but held on to an 87-85 win over Phoenix to end its campaign in the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup on a high note at the Cuneta Astrodome on Friday, July 12.
Import Olu Ashaolu and Kenneth Ighalo showed the way as the Road Warriors survived a monumental meltdown from up 20 points to finish the tournament with a 3-8 card and put the Fuel Masters in peril of missing the playoffs.
Down 34-54, Phoenix looked to be on the way to a stunning comeback win after cutting its deficit to a whisker, 85-86, off an RJ Jazul triple with 8 seconds left and after Ashaolo missed a pair of freebies on the other end.
However, Jericho Cruz collared the offensive rebound with 2.6 ticks remaining and split his free throws to virtually secure the victory for NLEX.
In a last ditch attempt to complete the comeback for the Fuel Masters, Matthew Wright fired an off-balanced three-pointer but saw his shot miss the entire backboard as the final buzzer sounded.
Ashaolu – who will be the Road Warriors' import in the Governors' Cup – put up 17 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals, while Ighalo was the only local in double figures with 14 points.
JR Quiñahan and Philip Paniamogan both made their presence felt for NLEX with 9 points apiece.
Jazul chalked up 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals, but not even his all-around performance was enough as Phoenix lost its third straight game to fall to 4-7 for 9th place.
Wright had 16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals, while Alex Mallari and import Richard Howell chimed in 13 and 11 points, respectively, in the loss.
NLEX 87 - Ashaolu 17, Ighalo 14, Quinahan 9, Paniamogan 9, Erram 7, Cruz 6, Lao 5, Tiongson 5, Fonacier 5, Taulava 4, Soyud 4, Varilla 2, Baguio 0, Galanza 0.
Phoenix 85 - Jazul 20, Wright 16, Mallari 13, Howell 11, Intal 6, Marcelo 6, Perkins 2, Napoles 0, Wilson 0, Guevarra 0, Gamboa 0.
Quarters: 21-11, 45-32, 65-54, 87-85.
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.