The NLEX Road Warriors lived on for another day in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals after rookie Calvin Oftana sank the game-winning layup to stun the Meralco Bolts, 81-80, at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga on Wednesday, September 29.
After Bolts forward Mac Belo missed two crucial free throws that would have created a three-point cushion, Bong Quinto then flubbed his defensive assignment off an NLEX timeout as Oftana broke free for the wide-open game-winner with 6.1 seconds left.
Nard Pinto then raced to the three-point line with no timeouts remaining, but he got trapped, and thus was forced to dump it back for a forced Cliff Hodge triple that caught air as the final buzzer sounded.
Thanks to Oftana’s game-winner, Anthony Semerad fully enjoyed the fruits of his season-high 23-point eruption, one away from his career-best, built off a 5-of-10 clip from three.
Oftana likewise had his fingerprints all over this thriller as he finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a block to force a deciding Game 2 against the Bolts on Friday, October 1.
“Yeah, that [final play] was intended for him. It went exactly as we planned it,” NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao revealed in the postgame presser.
“But of course, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t happen for you. But we’re really lucky that it happened for us this time. [He] deserved the opportunity to put the game in [his] hand, especially the way Calvin played the last time.”
Allein Maliksi led the losing cause with 16 points, 13 coming in the first half alone, on a 6-of-14 clip and 3-of-8 from long range.
Belo chipped in 12 markers, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks, while Quinto and Reynel Hugnatan added 11 points apiece.
NLEX 81 – Semerad 23, Trollano 12, Oftana 12, Cruz 10, Alas 9, Miranda 5, Soyud 4, Quiñahan 4, Paniamogan 2, Ighalo 0.
Meralco 80 – Maliksi 16, Belo 12, Quinto 11, Hugnatan 11, Caram 9, Newsome 7, Almazan 6, Hodge 6, Pasaol 2, Pinto 0, Baclao 0.
Quarters: 20-26, 44-42, 63-64, 81-80.