|(photo by ABL)|
By Julian Reyes
MANILA -- Kiwi Gardner drilled two pressure-packed free throws with 8.6 seconds left to help the Malaysia Dragons fend off an Alab Pilipinas’ late rally, 79-77, and end the defending champions’ three-game slide against the Philippine team in the ASEAN Basketball League at the House of Champions gym in Cyberjaya.
Gardner finished with 21 points, none bigger than the charities he had down the stretch, as the home side foiled a furious 25-15 fourth quarter run by Alab. The 5-foot-7 guard added six rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes. The Dragons blew a lead of as much as 16 points but regained steam when it mattered most to take their third win in 13 games and first against Alab this season. Alab Pilipinas, who were without James Hughes due to passport problems, remains at third spot with an 8-5 card. Skylar Spencer posted a huge double-double of 22 points and 22 rebounds, along with four blocks in 38 minutes to back Gardner up. Fil-Am guard Joshua Munzon added 20 points. Alab could take the win had they managed to keep their 77-73 lead, built on a run sparked by Robby Celiz, with over two minutes left or had Celiz protected the ball with seven seconds left to, at least, set up a possible game-winning play. But then, Spencer and Gardner made sure neither would happen as they powered the Dragons back to tie the game at 77, before the former stole the ball from Celiz and set up Gardner, who was fouled by Jeric Fortuna, for the winning play. Alab opened the final canto with a crippling 13-2 run capped by six straight points from Celiz to trim the deficit to just one, 66-65, with over five minutes left. They took the lead, 75-73, with 2:43 left on Celiz’s triple. Celiz led Alab with 23 points, four rebounds, and three assists, while import Sampson Carter added 21 points and 15 boards. Fortuna had 12 points, but team-leader Bobby Parks Jr. struggled as he finished with just eight points and five turnovers.
MALAYSIA DRAGONS 79 – Spencer 22, Gardner 21, Munzon 20, Yeo 8, Ting 4, Loh 2, Kuek 2, Ma 0, Teo 0, Wong 0.
ALAB 77 – Celiz 23, Carter 21, Fortuna 12, Cawaling 9, Parks 8, Gavieres 2, Knuttel 2, Domingo 0, Hubalde 0, Mendoza 0, Thiele 0.
Quarter scores: 18-13, 40-32, 64, 52, 79-77.
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