by Jonas Terrado
Olu Ashaolu made an immediate impact in his return as NLEX escaped with a 100-97 win over Rain or Shine in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ashaolu, who replaced Tony Mitchell after the team decided to bring him early in preparation for the Governors’ Cup, finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to lead the Road Warriors to just their second win in nine outings.
Jericho Cruz posted 15 points, six rebounds and six assists while Poy Erram added 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, including one that denied Rain or Shine import Denzel Bowles a go-ahead basket in the dying seconds.
Bowles produced 35 points and nine rebounds but the Elasto Painters fell to 3-4.
Behind Ashaolu, the Road Warriors led 81-64 at the end of the third but the Elasto Painters slowly climbed back and eventually pull to within a point, 98-97, on Kris Rosales’ three with 33.6 seconds left.
Rain or Shine forced NLEX to a 24-second violation on the ensuing play for a chance at stealing a win but Bowles was blocked by Erram while going for a layup.
Ashaolu converted both free throws to make it a three-point game as Bowles’ attempt at sending the game into overtime fell short as time expired.
NLEX’s victory came after Kiefer Ravena began joining practices this week, though the sophomore guard remains suspended until Aug. 24.
The Elasto Painters missed the services of James Yap, who is currently in Italy for a family vacation.