|Kevin Alas spearheaded NLEX's last heave. PBA Media Bureau|
By Dugout Philippines
BOCAUE--A timely explosion by Kevin Alas Sunday boosted NLEX right into the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs.
Alas made his first five shots, including four straight triples, in the fourth quarter and sparked the Road Warriors' 93-90 win over the Blackwater Elite at the Philippine Arena.
In all, Alas pumped in 16 of his career-high 25 points and added a couple of rebounds, assists and even a block in the payoff period, enabling NLEX to complete its fightback from as much as an 11-point deficit and a 65-74 count heading into the final quarter.
With the likes of Cyrus Baguio, Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Keifer Ravena lending hand in the stretch, the Road Warriors were able to withstand the Elite's endgame surge and emerge with their fourth straight win and sixth in 10 games overall
Such a record is enough to prop NLEX's climb to fourth-running spot with its inclusion among the eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals a certainty since some of the teams immediately below it could only hope for six wins at best. Alaska, idle at 6-4, also made it through.
Coach Yeng Guiao is simply glad his team was able to keep its poise in another tough game.
"Wala kaming ipinanalong madali," said Guiao, whose team won over Barangay Ginebra and Meralco by a combined five points and almost blew a 30-point fourth lead in a 96-89 triumph over Alaska last Sunday.
"Our last four wins were just grind out wins and this was no different." added Guiao. "Good thing Kevin Alas saved the game for us. He hit some fantastic shots. Pati ako nagulat."
Guiao was referring to Alas' 4-for-4 clip from beyond the arc in the first three minutes or so of the fourth period, the last giving NLEX the lead for good, 80-78. His step back jumper also made it 88-83.
Not bad for a player known more of a slasher and who has been a pedestrian 23 percent three-point shooter in the conference but wound up with a 5-for-12 clip from deep for the game.
"I've been getting on Kevin's outside shooting the last few games," related Guiao. "Today he showed he was an outside threat. That was just incredible shooting."
Another win over sister team TNT on Feb. 28 and NLEX is sure to avoid falling into seventh or eighth, which carries with it a twice-to-win handicap against a top two team in the next round.
Precisely what Guiao wants. "According to our calculations, six wins get you to the quarterfinals. But there's still a lot of games to be played," he said.
"Makaiwas lang kami sa seventh or eighth masaya na kami. We're just trying to avoid that twice-to-win disadvantage. We want to play a team on even terms."
The loss dropped Blackwater to 4-6 and a tie at ninth with TNT. The Elite must now win over Phoenix on Wednesday to entertain any hope of making it through.
Mike Digregorio's 16 points led five Elite who finished in double figures with JP Erram adding a game-high 17 rebounds to his 14 markers.
Blackwater simply crumbled come winning time, getting outscored 28-16.
A triple each by Allein Maliksi and Digregorio made it a one-possession game late, but the Road Warriors would simply not be denied.
A baseline jumper and a pair of charities by Al-Hussaini made it 92-86 while Ravena's charity gave him 23 for the game while pegging a 93-89 count, the last still 51 ticks left.
Maliksi's freebie whittled the deficit to just 90-93, but the count held when Mac Belo's double-clutch trey try in the face of a sticky defense failed to find the mark just before the buzzer.
NLEX 93 - Alas 25, Ravena 23, Tiongson 9, Quinahan 8, Al-Hussaini 6, Mallari 5, Baguio 5, Soyud 4, Ighalo 3, Miranda 3, Fonacier 2, Taulava 0, Gotladera 0.
BLACKWATER 90 - Digregorio 16, Jose 14, Erram 14, Maliksi 13, Sena 12, Belo 10, Palma 6, Marcelo 5, Pinto 0.
Quarters: 23-20, 41-46, 65-74, 93-90.
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