Manila, Philippines – Barako Bull has booked safe passage to the quarterfinals. The NLEX Road Warriors, meanwhile, appear stuck in the tollgate.
RR Garcia unloaded 22 points, including three 3-pointers, and the Barako Bull Energy hung on to send the Road Warriors to their third straight loss, a 92-87 decision that might have revived Kia Motors’ flickering playoff bid in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With back-to-back wins and its 4th overall against 6 losses, Barako Bull moved up a notch to solo 9th place while keeping an eye on a possible if remote twice-to-beat appearance in the two-phase quarterfinals. NLEX, on the other hand, fell to 3-7, and although 10th place should be good enough to make it to the next round, the loss breathed life into Kia’s dying hopes.
The Road Warriors, nonetheless, remain a cinch to make it to the playoffs, probably against the No. 3 seed. But for now, the 11th placed Sorento (1-8), who have to win their two remaining games, are back in the hunt.
Garcia was 9 of 15 from the field and his driving layup with 29 seconds remaining gave Barako Bull an 86-81 lead. Chico Lanete and Willy Wilson each had 13 points and Mick Pennisi, who held his own against veteran counterpart Asi Taulava added 12 with two 3s.
A late 3-pointer by Mac Cardona, who led NLEX with 23 points, made it 84-88, but Pennisi hit two free throws, holding back the threat. Cardona came back with a 3-point play, making it a one-possession game with 17 seconds to go. Wilson split his charities, however, and Garcia blocked a 3-point attempt by Juneric Baloria to seal the outcome.
“Our motivation coming in is how to use this game in the coming playoffs,” said Energy coach Koy Banal. “Winning the game is stretching our selves. Yung last four games namin (won 3 of 4) gave us positive signs of what we’re trying to do as a team.”
Dorian Pena, back from knee injury, came off the bench halfway in the fourth quarter, taking fouls away from Pennisi while keeping Taulava from dominating inside in the crunch.
Clutch 3-point shooting in the second quarter from Pennisi and Garcia fuelled a Barako Bull comeback from 26-35 that allowed the Energy to take the half, 41-37.
After Garcia’s triple wrested the lead for Barako Bull, 39-37, NLEX forward Aldrech Ramos tied the score with a lean-in 8-footer. JC Intal then broke through the Road Warriors’ defense for a high floater just before the break.
The first 24 minutes was off to a physical start with Barako Bull guard Denok Miranda getting a technical and Pennisi called for a flagrant one foul after hitting NLEX playmaker Jonas Villenueva in the head with an errant elbow during a looseball play early in the second period.
Pennisi served the three-minute penalty on the bench but returned to spark the Energy back to life after Cardona completed a 3-point play to give NLEX a 35-26 advantage.
Meanwhile, Manny Pacquiao’s Kia Sorento fight for survival against the Meralco Bolts at 4:15 p.m. today, while Talk ‘N Text shoots for its third straight win against Grand Slam champion Purefoods Star at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
At 1-8, the Sorento are one loss away from joining fellow expansion team Blackwater to an early Christmas vacation, but can put that on hold with a win over the Bolts, whose 4-5 win-loss slate allows them a shot at a twice-to-beat slot in the playoffs.
Kia has dropped eight straight after an opening day win over Blackwater, while Meralco has dropped their last two games.
“It’s a must-win situation because it’s our last chance to stay in the running for the twice-to-beat advantage,” said Meralco coach Norman Black. “Kia showed in their last game versus Purefoods that they can compete with any team so we must be ready. Handling their defensive pressure and our ability to stop their running game will be the keys for us.”
Talk ‘N Text, in solo 4th place with a 6-3 card, is coming off a 90-80 victory over Blackwater Monday, while Purefoods, tied for 5th with slumping Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, absorbed an 83-74 drubbing from Rain or Shine last Tuesday.
BARAKO BULL 92 – Garcia 22, Lanete 13, Wilson 13, Pennisi 12, Intal 10, Marcelo 7, Pascual 6, Lastimosa 5, Miranda 4, Pena 0, Salvador 0, Paredes 0.
NLEX 87 – Caradona 23, Taulava 17, Borboran 9, Ramos 9, R. Villanueva 8, J. Villanueva 6, Canaleta 4, H. Arboleda 3, Lingganay 2, Baloria 2, Apinan 1, Raymundo 0, W. Arboleda 0.
Quarters: 18-18; 41-39; 62-66; 92-87.