by Jonas Terrado
NLEX put Phoenix Pulse in danger of missing a quarterfinals berth after escaping with an 87-85 victory that ended its PBA Commissioner’s Cup campaign on a bright note at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The Road Warriors had to endure a last-ditch comeback by the Fuel Masters to wrap up their disappointing midseason tournament on a high note at 3-8 after winning two of their final three games.
Import Olu Ashaolu led a balanced scoring attack with 17 points while adding 17 rebounds, five assists and two steals as NLEX hopes to capitalize on its strong finish going into the Governors’ Cup in September.
Things are expected to get better for the Road Warriors in the season-ending conference with Kiefer Ravena set to return from his 15-month FIBA suspension and Kevin Alas likely to return from an ACL injury midway in the conference.
“It’s a good thing that we won our last game at may baon kaming panalo kahit papaano,” said coach Yeng Guiao, who will spend the next couple of months also preparing Gilas Pilipinas for the FIBA World Cup in China.
The win also made NLEX possibly play the spoiler role in Phoenix’s bid for a quarters berth.
Phoenix, which fell by 20 in the third quarter, ended the elims at 4-7, needing to rely on the outcome of the remaining games to have a chance of at least forcing a playoff for the No. 8 seed in the quarters.
The Fuel Masters had several chances to win in the end when Justin Chua cut it to two, 84-82, on a layup and the Road Warriors’ Paul Varilla losing the ball out of bound despite being wide open underneath the shaded lane on the ensuing play.
Import Richard Howell missed an open three, Varilla made two charities and RJ Jazul drained a triple to trim NLEX’s lead to 86-85.
Ashaolu missed two foul shots but Jericho Cruz grabbed the offensive foul and split his freebies after being fouled with 1.9 left for 87-85. Matthew Wright’s game-winning three was off the mark as time expired.
NLEX 87 — Ashaolu 17, Ighalo 14, Quinahan 9, Paniamogan 9, Erram 7, Cruz 6, Lao 5, Tiongson 5, Fonacier 5, Taulava 4, Soyud 4, Varilla 2, Baguio 0, Galanza 0.
PHOENIX PULSE 85 — Jazul 20, Wright 16, Mallari 13, Howell 11, Intal 6, Marcelo 6, Perkins 2, Napoles 0, Wilson 0, Guevarra 0, Gamboa 0.
Quarters: 21-11; 45-32; 65-54; 87-85.