MANILA, Philippines – The Phoenix Fuel Masters outhustled the NorthPort Batang Pier in their PBA Governors’ Cup knockout match for the eighth and final playoff seed, and escaped in a 101-98 thriller at the Araneta Coliseum on Sunday, March 13.
After struggling for pretty much the entire game, veteran guard Matthew Wright found his touch at just the right time, and finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in 40 minutes.
The Phoenix leader rallied the troops after going down as many as 15 points in the first quarter, and sparked life to its comeback attempt with a crucial go-ahead three-point play, 100-99, that fouled out Jamie Malonzo with 29 seconds left in the final frame.
Roi Sumang only made matters worse for NorthPort’s flimsy hold on the game after committing a costly turnover that led to a split free-throw line trip for RR Garcia for a 101-98 Phoenix lead.
NorthPort had its chances to tie the game in the end, but import Jamel Artis’ tying three clanked off, followed by another bricked trey from Jerrick Balanza as time expired in favor of the gutsy Fuel Masters squad.
Phoenix import Du’vaughn Maxwell anchored the win in a full 48-minute marathon, and finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Garcia came out of nowhere with a 19-point spark off the bench, backstopped by Jason Perkins’ 18-marker, 11-rebound double-double.
“That NorthPort team is really a contender. Hats off to coach Pido (Jarencio), and the rest of those guys. They really gave us a good run for our money,” said Phoenix coach Topex Robinson after the game.
“Credit goes to the players, the guys who just didn’t give up. Guys were struggling the whole game, but we just made a lot of stops in the fourth quarter. At this point, it’s really them, they just didn’t give up.”
All NorthPort starters scored in double figures in the heartbreaking season-ending loss, led by Artis’ 21-point, 12-board double-double, and Robert Bolick’s 19 markers, 9 rebounds, 7 dimes, and 2 steals.
The high-flying Malonzo added a full line of 15 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, but was ultimately unable to contribute in the game’s dying moments.
Phoenix now heads to the Governors’ Cup quarterfinals as the eighth seed, and will face the top-ranked Magnolia Hotshots on Friday, March 18, 6 pm.
NorthPort will head home empty-handed after its Cinderella run to playoff contention following a horror 0-5 start to the conference.
Phoenix 101 – Maxwell 31, Garcia 19, Perkins 18, Jazul 11, Wright 11, Demusis 4, Rios 3, Manganti 2, Melecio 2, Pascual 0, Robles 0.
NorthPort 98 – Artis 21, Bolick 19, Malonzo 15, Santos 14, Sumang 14, Ferrer 6, Balanza 4, Rike 3, Taha 2.
Quarters: 18-31, 46-55, 76-79, 101-98.