|Kiefer Ravena goes clutch. Rick Dela Cruz|
By Patrick Sutare
PASAY--It was virtually playing to avoid the death trap for NLEX, and the team responded in a way like its back was really against the wall.
Needing a charge taker, prized rookie Kiefer Ravena, who is being molded to be a franchise player, came to the rescue and saved his squad from falling in jeopardy.
Ravena came up clutch on separate occasions with the biggest play being the eventual game winner as NLEX recuperated from an awful spell--not once, but twice--to outlast Meralco, 87-85, on Friday at the Cuneta Astrodome in the PBA Philippine Cup.
The second-overall draft pick of last year's draft buried a tough jumper with 0.5 left to win and cap a sensational showing for the Road Warriors, who had to launch a couple of rallies before pulling through against the Bolts.
Ravena scored 14 of his 21-point total in the second half while grabbing seven boards and dishing out four assists.
Meralco led by 18 in the first and by 10 early in the final frame -- both of which simply went down in flames.
The Bolts a got off to a scorching start as their on-point defense right from the get go manufactured a 26-10 buffer after one.
The Road Warriors then dragged the tempo of the game based on their pace after getting an expected earful from coach Yeng Guiao. The players summoned their grit and went on a 28-11 searing charge in the ensuing quarter to nab the lead and forge a 38-37 halftime count.
As expected, the second half turned to be a total slugfest.
Meralco ruled the third and the first half of the payoff period where they established the said 10-point cushion, 82-72, spirited by a surprising hot-shooting stroke from Nico Salva.
But NLEX refused to rest its laurels, pulling to within a deuce via a 8-0 onslaught, 82-80, at the twilight zone.
Ravena then delivered a cold-blooded triple off an isolation to stretch the run to 11-0 and give the lead back to the Warriors, 83-82, with 43.4 left.
The Road Warriors then forced a crucial stop before JR Quinahan made his freebies, 85-82, 18.5 ticks left.
But Chris Newsome quickly scored on an and-1 play -- interestingly, against Ravena -- to tie the game at 85 with 15.3 left.
But with ice in his veins, the rookie took the helm anew and won the game.
The back-to-back wins put NLEX in the crowded core of the standings with Ginebra, Phoenix and TNT all having an even 4-4 record.
On the flipside, the Bolts suffered their third straight loss and sixth overall, putting their chances of advancing to the next round at huge risk.
The loss also spoiled Salva's solid night. The former Ateneo standout made a good account of himself, picking good spots to hoist a team high 20 points in just 23 minutes off the bench.
Newsome, meanwhile, silently posted a near triple-double of 15 points, 11 boards and seven assists that just went for naught.
NLEX 87 - Ravena 21, Fonacier 17, Alas 15, Mallari 12, Quinahan 6, Al-Hussaini 6, Baguio 4, Miranda 2, Monfort 2, Gotladera 2, Uyloan 0, Taulava 0, Soyud 0.
Meralco 85 - Salva 20, Newsome 15, Amer 14, Hugnatan 10, Lanete 10, Caram 7, Canaleta 4, Hodge 3, Bono 2, Tolomia 0, Dillinger 0.
Quarters: 10-26, 38-37, 62-65, 87-85.
Follow him on Twitter: @patricksutare