Calvin Abueva hardly looked like he missed a step from his suspension after helping Phoenix edge NLEX, 114-110, in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Angeles University Foundation in Pampanga on Monday, October 26.
Abueva, playing in the PBA for the first time in 16 months, delivered 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists off the bench as the Fuel Masters picked up their fourth win in 6 outings.
It has been a long time coming for Abueva, who got punished by the PBA for back-to-back on-court incidents in 2019 that saw him make derogatory remarks toward a fan and clothesline former import Terrence Jones.
Rust showed as Abueva missed his first 3 field goal attempts, but he slowly found his offensive rhythm as the Fuel Masters overcame double-digit deficits in the first and second halves.
Abueva hit a floater with 40 seconds left for a 110-107 lead, which the Phoenix protected in the endgame to hand NLEX its fifth loss in 6 games.
"It is a blessing to have him there," said Fuel Masters head coach Topex Robinson, who was still a deputy for the team when the PBA cracked the whip on Abueva.
"We just have to continue supporting Calvin because he is a part of us, he is a part of our family, and we're always going to protect our family."
Matthew Wright churned out 28 points – with 21 coming in the first half – on top of 5 assists and 4 rebounds for Phoenix, while Jason Perkins added 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Justin Chua put up 19 points and 4 rebounds as he knocked down crucial free throws down the stretch that sealed the win for the Fuel Masters.
Chua put Phoenix up 112-107 by sinking two foul shots before he put the nail in the coffin with another pair of free throws with 8.7 ticks left, after Raul Soyud brought NLEX within a single possession, 110-112, with a triple.
Soyud had the finest game of his PBA career with 27 points on an impressive 12-of-14 shooting, but that went down the drain as the Road Warriors failed to protect their leads.
NLEX led by as large as 11 points in the first half and 14 points in the second half, only to witness Phoenix come back every single time.
Kiefer Ravena had 18 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds in the loss, JR Quinahan added 18 points and 5 rebounds, while Kevin Alas chimed in 15 points and 4 rebounds.
Phoenix 114 - Wright 28, Abueva 21, Perkins 20, Chua 19, Rios 10, Garcia 6, Heruela 4, Jazul 4, Intal 2.
NLEX 110 - Soyud 27, Quinahan 18, Ravena 18, Alas 15, McAloney 14, Miranda 6, Semerad 2, Cruz 8, Ayonayon 2, Varilla 0, Ighalo 0.
Quarters: 27-30, 60-58, 86-85, 114-110.
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.