UNBEATEN Phoenix came up with the game's biggest defensive gem to nip NLEX 83-82 Friday and remain firmly lodged at the top of the PBA Philippine Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Calvin Abueva came soaring off the weak side to pull off a block on a jump-shooting Bong Galanza in the last second, enabling the Fuel Masters to extend their franchise-best start to a conference at 5-0.
That sterling play made sure Abueva's 13 points and 11 rebounds, plus the game-high 17 points, five rebounds and six assists of Matthew Wright, did not go to waste.
Phoenix coach Louie Alas is simply glad his team came out with a win over a tough NLEX side that refused to simply buckle under despite being faced with an early 17-point deficit.
"I said during pre-game interviews na it will be a tough game... kasi meron silang apat na reliable big men. We just have to rotate off them," said Alas.
"JR (Quinahan) nandoon pa rin, pero na-limit namin sila (Poy) Erram, (Marion) Magat at saka (Kris) Porter."
Indeed, Quinahan hit his average with 14 points, but Erram finished with just 11 points although he did have a game-best 15 rebounds. Porter wound up with just six points while Magat went scoreless.
That did not prevent NLEX from razing a 15-32 deficit and even opening up the third period with a 12-0 run to take two 11-point leads, however.
Alas said it was partly his team's fault. "Medyo naging complacent kami ng second quarter nu'ng lumamang kami ng 17, as if nanalo na kami ng game," he said.
The fact his team is in a very unfamilar position at the top also amazes Alas, who also pointed out they still have to face the league's other, more perennial heavyweights.
"Unbelievable," gushed Alas, before adding: "I'm not saying na talagang kaya namin mga nauna , pero eto na, mga elite teams na makakalaban namin starting with Rain or Shine Sunday. We will see."
The way his crew was able to hold on should also serve as more confidence-booster for Alas.
Phoenix actually went scoreless after Wright's jumper made it an 83-77 count, still 2:45 left.
Bong Galanza, who came off the bench for 12 points, capped his performance with a reverse lay-up and a feed to Philip Paniamogan for a right corner 3 that made it a one-point game, 56.4 ticks remaining.
It's just that Phoenix's defense held, highlighted by that Abueva play that was his second block of the game.
The loss negated the fine efforts displayed by NLEX in the two middle quarters and the fine performances early on of Cyrus Baguio and rookie Kyles Lao that complemented that of Erram and Quinahan.
Averaging just a point in the first four games he has played, Baguio already had nine points in the second quarter as he led NLEX's surge from a 15-32 deficit and to within just 44-45 at the half.
Quinahan, Erram and Galanza also played key roles in that fightback by combining for 14 points but it was Lao who drew attention.
The former UP Fighting Maroon, picked 29th overall in the last draft and activated to fill up the void created by Kevin Alas' ACL injury, came in first at the 5:51 mark of the second period and immediately made an impact by scoring four points, issuing three assists and easily beating Phoenix's press.
The Road Warriors actually outscored Phoenix 32-21 in the second period off a 12-for-18 field shooting, including 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.
That was in stark contrast to the way the Fuel Masters made 12 of 23 shots in the opening quarter to the Road Warriors' 5-for-13 clip that enabled the former to take a 24-12 lead and stretch that to 17 off an 8-3 run. (NC)
PHOENIX 83 - Wright 17, Perkins 14, Abueva 13, Mendoza 8, Jazul 8, Chua 6, Mallari 6, Revilla 3, Kramer 2, Marcelo 2, Napoles 2, Dennison 2, Gamboa 0.
NLEX 82 - Quinahan 14, Galanza 12, Erram 11, Fonacier 9, Baguio 9, Lao 8, Ighalo 6, Porter 6, Paniamogan 5, Taulava 2, Tiongson 0, Magat 0, Tallo 0.
Quarter scores: 24-12, 45-44, 67-70, 83-82.