Nothing like a good pep talk to fire up a ballclub that has stumbled on roadblocks even before it got going.
The NLEX Road Warriors finally felt the winds of victory on their faces last night after routing the Blackwater Elite, 106-79, and snapping a three-game losing start in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Former LA Clipper Al Thornton, fitted with a different knee protector other than the controversial metallic brace he used to wear, poured 39 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in 33:46 minutes as the Road Warriors responded positively to a pre-game day speech from NLEX president Ramon Fernandez.
“It’s really nice to get our first win,” said NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez. “And I’d like to thank management for taking the time to give the players some pep talk.”
Asked what the talk was all about, Fernandez said team management assured the players that while tough losses could be taken in stride, the 87-62 whopping they absorbed from Purefoods last Feb. 11 was “unacceptable.”
In that game, Thornton was outclassed by Purefoods’ new import Daniel Orton, getting held down to 11 points and 7 rebounds as NLEX was hammered under the boards, 60-43, and shot just 29 percent overall (24 of 83), including 8 of 35 from 3-point range.
Fernandez said Thornton was called to a separate heart-to-heart by management but much of the conversation centered on Thornton’s knee brace which the Alaska Aces complained about earlier.
“He was really messed up by that knee brace issue,” said Fernandez. “Before the Purefoods game, pinayagan na siyang gamitin yon tapos bigla siya pinatawag kaya di siya naka-start.”
Surgery in the States to repair a meniscal tear on his right knee led to Thornton suiting up with a metallic brace for protection.
“He took off that brace in practice but wore it again when we played in Dubai because he has grown used to it,” said Fernandez. “Parang he felt confident na okey siya pag suot niya yon.
Thornton now wears a different padded knee brace and he has told NLEX coaches that he felt good with it.
Evidently he was.
He shot 14 of 20 from the field and 7 of 8 from the foul line, pouring 14 points in the first quarter, 10 in the second and 12 in the third. He slowed down in the last 12 minutes but Rudy Lingganay and Rico Villanueva each had 5 points and Blackwater (1-4) lost the will to come back after trailing by 35 points halfway through the second half.
“Malinis naman yung operation sa kanya at yung therapy,” Fernandez. “Nararamdaman din daw niya that his leg is getting stronger. So hopefully this win will be a positive development for us since we face the top three teams next.”
Bryan Faundo led Blackwater with 17 points but Gilas Pilipinas center Marcus Douthit, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds, was unable to stir up the Elite the way he did in their sensational 80-77 victory over Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beer.
Meanwhile, defending champion Purefoods Star faces Kia Motors at 7 p.m. today, with the Hotshots looking to recover lost ground after absorbing their first loss.
The Hotshots saw their four-game winning start snapped by Rain or Shine during the Petron Saturday Special in Dipolog, while Kia (1-4) is seeking to snap a two-game losing streak.
In the first game at 4:15 p.m., Barako Bull (3-1) takes on Globalport (2-3), with both teams coming off recent losses to separate teams, Barako Bull to Talk ‘N Text and Globalport to unbeaten leader Meralco.
NLEX 106 – Thornton 39, Canaleta 9, Lingganay 9, Villanueva J. 9, Villanueva E. 9, Hermida 8, Taulava 8, Cardona 7, Ramos 4, Arboleda 2, Baloria 2, Camson 0, Borboran 0, Apinan 0, Soyud 0.
BLACKWATER 79 – Faundo 17, Douthit 15, Celiz 15, Reyes 8, Heruela 7, Laure 7, Bulawan 6, Acuna 4, Canada 0, Timberlake 0, Nuyles 0, Erram 0, Gamalinda 0, Salvacion 0, Ballesteros 0.
Quarters: 24-11, 55-27, 84-49, 106-79