NLEX went out with a bang. In its final game of the conference, the eliminated Road Warriors got some positives after they played the role of spoilers by squeaking past Phoenix, 87-85, in the 2019 Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City last night.
Olu Ashaolu led NLEX with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds with five assists while Kenneth Ighalo added 14 markers.
NLEX ended its tournament run with a 3-8, win-loss mark.
With Ashaolu in tow, the Road Warriors are now looking forward to a strong Governors’ Cup showing.
The loss is a big blow to Phoenix’s hopes of making the quarterfinals.
With its third straight defeat, the Fuel Masters finished at 4-7, in ninth place at the moment, and can only hope that the results of the remaining games can favor them to have a slim shot for a playoff for a berth in the next round.
Only the top eight teams will march forward to the quarters.
NLEX dodged a huge comeback bullet from Phoenix in the final minute.
After squandering most of its double-digit lead in the fourth, it only held an 84-82 lead with 32 seconds left and got a break after Richard Howell missed a right elbow triple, that could’ve potentially given the Fuel Masters the lead.
Paul Varilla then sank two freebies for NLEX, making it 86-82.
RJ Jazul countered with a triple on the other end, trimming Phoenix’s deficit to only a single point, 85-86, with eight seconds remaining, leading the door open.
Jericho Cruz then split his charities with 2.6 ticks left and Matthew Wright’s desperation triple was totally off, allowing NLEX to preserve the win.
NLEX coach Yeng Guiao even got ejected with only 42.9 seconds left after two technical fouls due to continuous complaining and profanity, enabling the Fuel Masters to gain steam and threaten in the closing seconds.
Playing loose with nothing on the line, the Road Warriors were able to put up a spirited performance to end their campaign on a high note.
An 11-0 run midway through the opening quarter paved the way for NLEX’s cruise as it opened a 21-9 advantage with over a minute left in the first.
NLEX retained the momentum as it stretched its lead further to 17 points, 45-28, after a tremendous dunk by Ashaolu in the dying seconds of the first half.
The second half was no different until the Fuel Masters rallied back in the waning minutes to threaten.
Phoenix’s last-ditch effort to salvage the game only managed to trim the gap in the final tally towards the end.
RJ Jazul had a game-high 20 points for Phoenix in a losing cause.
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