by Waylon Galvez
NLEX used a decisive run in the final frame to score its fourth straight win, beating Phoenix Fuel, 95-91, and keeping its record clean in the PBA Governors’ Cup last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Carlo Lastimosa and Alex Mallari led the Road Warriors’ 16-4 run capped by a Mallari basket that erased a 10-point deficit (78-68) with eight minutes left and gave them an 84-82 advantage with 3:41 to play.
Lastimosa scored 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, while Mallari added eighth of his 14. NLEX import Aaron Fuller led the team with 18 points and 24 rebounds.
After that layup by Mallari, Phoenix import Eugene Phelps split his free throws to make it 84-83. Lastimosa converted a basket and, after an error by the Fuel Masters, Mallari split his foul shots to give NLEX an 87-83 lead.
The last time Phoenix threatened was when Doug Kramer scored inside to cut NLEX’s lead to 90-87 with 54 seconds to go. But Mallari buried a dagger three-pointer for a 93-87 advantage with 9.5 seconds remaining, quelling the threat.
The victory kept NLEX on top with an unbeaten record in the season-ending conference, extending its franchise best start to 4-0, and 6-0 since winning its last two games in the previous Commissioner’s Cup.
The four wins also matched the team’s total wins during the first two PBA tournaments after the Road Warriors had similar 2-9 records in the Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup. NLEX coach Yeng Guiao, understandably, was pleased.
“It’s really a nice win for us,” said Guiao, who joined the franchise before the season after nearly six years – and two championships – with Rain or Shine. “We’re starting to look like a team.”
“We’ve been winning games in the end. We’re able to hold our own and pull through in crucial situations. It’s a good sign for a team that is just trying to put it together,” he said.
Guiao, who added Mallari, center JR Quiñahan and forward Larry Fonacier via separate trades last conference, was quick to caution that their next assignments – starting with defending champion Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Saturday in Pangasinan – will be the true test.
NLEX 95 – Fuller 18, Mallari 14, Lastimosa 14, Alas 13, Quinahan 10, Fonacier 5, Monfort 4, Soyud 4, Tiongson 4, Taulava 4, Rios 3, Baracael 2, J. Villanueva 0, Al-Hussaini 0, Ighalo 0.
PHOENIX 91 – Phelps 31, Wright 17, Baguio 8, Jazul 8, Dehesa 8, Eriobu 7, Kramer 4, Intal 4, Lanete 4, W. Wilson 0, Alolino 0, Borboran 0.
Quarters: 14-15; 39-43; 64-69; 95-91.