NLEX was dominant overall, but still needed a steady hand to survive an early fourth-quarter storm, routing Blackwater, 88-75, in an Easter Sunday 2016 Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup showdown at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Asi Taulava powered his way inside, scoring a game-high 22 points to go with 14 rebounds and four assists, while Al Thornton likewise scored 22 to again backstop the Road Warriors.
With the victory, NLEX remained in the thick of things in the wild race towards the playoffs. It is now part of a five-way tie with Star, Talk ‘N Text, Rain or Shine and Mahindra from spots 5 to 9 as they all have similar 4-4 cards.
However, the Hotshots, currently the league’s hottest team, can move up to solo fifth place should they win against Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beer late Sunday.
NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez credited his team’s defense for the win.
“It’s really our defense that stepped up today,” said Fernandez. “Our goal was to limit Blackwater to 90 or below and we did that. I give credit to our team for that.”
After opening a six-point lead, 18-12, at the end of one, NLEX tightened its grip on the contest with a burly push in the second. The Road Warriors started the second period with a swift 9-2 run to establish a solid double-digit lead, 27-14, with nine minutes remaining before halftime.
At intermission, they carried a twin-digit advantage, 42-32.
By the turn, Thornton already had 15 markers as his scoring was once again vital for NLEX.
A split from rookie Glenn Khobuntin gave the Road Warriors a bigger 16-point bubble, 64-48, at the 2:44 mark of the third.
However, Blackwater had one big run, orchestrating a 20-6 surge bridging the last two quarters to pull within just two, 70-68, with just under eight minutes left in the game after an undergoal stab from Bam Gamalinda.
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:15 p.m. – Blackwater vs. Phoenix
7 p.m. – Barangay Ginebra vs. Tropang TNT