MANILA, Philippines – A big fourth-quarter performance propelled the NLEX Road Warriors against its former head coach Yeng Guiao and the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 96-90, on Friday, September 23, at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig.
Import Earl Clark, noted for his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, made his presence felt on both ends of the floor as he scored 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked 6 shots, and stole the ball 4 times.
The Road Warriors pulled ahead by six in the early moments of the payoff period after scoring five quick points in succession, 72-66, after a stepback three by Matt Nieto 43 seconds in.
NLEX closed the proverbial door on the Elasto Painters after Clark threw down a slam dunk, widening the gap to its biggest at 14, 91-77, with 3:06 left in the contest.
Rain or Shine refused to go down without a fight and eventually whittled down the lead to six, 96-90, after import Steve Taylor Jr. scored on a field goal.
They had a chance to cut the lead even more as Kevin Alas turned the ball over, but Nieto picked off the pass and dribbled the ball out to record NLEX’s first win of the Commissioner’s Cup.
Justin Chua followed up Clark with 18 markers and 8 boards for the Road Warriors.
The big man bucked off early foul trouble he suffered when he committed three quick fouls in the first, never committing one the rest of the way.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive. I had three fouls, unfortunately, I think, in the first five minutes. [Guiao] did a good job of scouting. I feel like they were clogging the lane, they knew I could get past my man, so I had to figure out how to drive without charging,” said Clark during the post-game press conference.
“When I got back into the game, I was still thinking too much going to the basket. But it’s a different league, they called it differently, so I just had to adjust, stay focused, and keep being aggressive,” he added.
Rain or Shine, who was welcoming Guiao for his second stint with the team, raced to an early 22-12 lead with about a minute left in the first quarter.
Taylor ooped the alley at the 8:53 mark of the second to give the Elasto Painters its biggest lead of the contest at 32-20, and led 42-36 at halftime.
In the third, NLEX went ahead by six after Paul Varilla laid the ball in with 3:39 left, 62-56, before Rain or Shine clawed back to within one, 67-66, at the start of the fourth.
Taylor topscored for the Elasto Painters with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Rey Nambatac added 11 markers.
“First off all, I just want to thank the [NLEX] management for the full support they’ve given me and to the whole team,” said interim coach Adonis Tierra.
“For the players, it was hard because of the many changes that transpired. It’s hard for me, but at the same time, for the players, to the whole team, I was shocked on how they played tonight, as everybody stepped up and played well, especially on the defensive end,” Tierra said in Filipino.
Tierra will still lead the bench on Sunday, September 25, against the Meralco Bolts as newly hired head coach Frankie Lim will serve a one-game suspension stemming from a 2015 infraction he had as coach of Barangay Ginebra.
NLEX 96 – Clark 26, Chua 18, Alas 15, Nieto 12, Trollano 12, Varilla 4, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Miranda 3, Magat 2, Rosales 0, Fonacier 0, Ighalo 0.
Rain or Shine 90 – Taylor 21, Nambatac 11, Nieto 10, Caracut 9, Ponferrada 8, Asistio 7, Demusis 6, Belga 5, Ildefonso 4, Santillan 4, Borboran 3, Norwood 2, Mamuyac 0, Torres 0.
Quarters: 15-24, 36-42, 67-66, 96-90.