NLEX finally caught a break after taking down erstwhile undefeated TNT, 109-98, in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Angeles University Foundation in Pampanga on Thursday, October 29.
In a stunning reversal of fortune between one of the worst and best teams in the PBA, the Road Warriors banked on their bevy of guards to improve to 2-5 and deal the Tropang Giga their first loss after a 5-0 start.
Kevin Alas displayed his grit as he bucked a bloodied nose to finish the game for NLEX, scoring 10 of his 24 points in the decisive final quarter and hitting the timely baskets down the stretch.
Alas hurt his nose following a collision with Jayson Castro in the first half, but he returned and closed out the win for the Road Warriors with a free throw and a layup that gave their side a 107-96 lead with 20 ticks left.
The Tropang Giga, who trailed by as many as 13 points, narrowed the gap to 5 points, 96-101, off back-to-back Castro and Ray Parks buckets only to fall short of their comeback.
Kiefer Ravena hit a sidestep three-pointer over Roger Pogoy to bring the NLEX lead back to 8 points, 104-96, before Alas – who also finished with 6 rebounds and 3 steals – put the finishing touches in the victory.
"I think this is the proudest I've been since we've been in the bubble," said NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao.
Ravena chalked up 16 points and 9 rebounds, while Jericho Cruz punished his former team TNT with 19 points spiked by 5 triples.
Despite the verdict already settled, tempers flared in the last 20 seconds as JR Quiñahan and Parks got entangled underneath the basket, with both players earning flagrant fouls.
Quiñahan delivered a near-triple-double of 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists for the Road Warriors.
Jayson Castro had 27 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds for the Tropang Giga, who were limited to under 100 points after leading the league in scoring with an average of 107.6 points per game.
TNT scored just 35 points in the middle quarters combined before exploding for 31 points in the last period, but that proved not enough for the team to remain unbeaten.
NLEX 109 - Alas 24, Cruz 19, Ravena 16, Miranda 8, Quinahan 8, Ayonayon 8, Semerad 7, Soyud 6, McAloney 6, Varilla 5, Porter 2, Ighalo 0.
TNT 98 - Castro 27, Pogoy 16, Parks 15, Rosario 11, Enciso 11, Reyes 7, Erram 9, De Leon 2, Semerad 0, Washington 0.
Quarters: 24-32, 53-48, 75-67, 109-98.
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.