SMART CLARK GIGA CITY - They all insist Calvin Abueva is a changed man from his wayward days.
But he's the same old Abueva on his return to the hard court from his last game many months ago.
The energetic Phoenix Super LPG forward amassed near triple-double numbers to herald his comeback from indefinite suspension, and the Fuel Masters made it more meaningful with a 114-110 conquest of the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA Philippine Cup bubble play Monday.
"Pinaghandaan ko ang first game ko. Itinulog ko ng maaga, nag-extra rice at ang mindset ko kung paano mananalo," said Abueva, all smile on the result of his first game at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Sports Arena in Angeles City, Pampanga.
He hardly showed rust from his long layoff collecting 21 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists to help the Fuel Masters jacked up their stock in the Top Four with a 4-2 win-loss record.
Matthew Wright, Jason Perkins and Justin Chua displayed their usual stuff for the Fuel Masters who made a key turnaround from 14 points down in the third period and went on to deal the Road Warriors a fifth loss against a lone win.
Complementing well one another, Wright poured in 28 points, including four treys, Perkins piled up his own double-double with 20 markers and 13 boards while Chua scored 19 points, including a crucial personal onslaught at the finish.
Coach Topex Robinson acknowledged the key contribution of Abueva that boosted the entire Phoenix team.
In return, Abueva was thankful to everybody.
"Lahat yang points, rebounds at assists na ginawa ko, na-compute ko yan kung paano ko magagawa. Pero malaking tulong ang mga teammates ko at ang coaching staff namin. Ni-review namin ang bawat koponan sa bubble," said Abueva.
Asked of his biggest contribution, Abueva said: Ang malaking dagdag ko ang joy namin. Kailangan namin ng joy sa loob at labas ng court. Hindi madali para sa amin at sa lahat ng koponan ang ginagawa namin dito."
Beating a back-to-the-wall NLEX team wasn't easy.
Drawing a career performance from Raul Soyud and the usual lift from Kiefer Ravena, Kevin Alas and JR Quinahan, the Road Warriors took early double-digit spreads and enjoyed a 14-point lead midway through the third before hitting the wall.
Still, they played tough to the finish, but the Fuel Masters just won't be denied.
Chua knocked in two three-pointers and drained four charities at the finish to help Phoenix through. (SB)
Phoenix Super LPC 114 - Wright 28, Abueva 21 , Perkins 20, Chua 19, Rios 10,Garcia 6, Heruela 4, Jazul 4, Intal 2, Gamboa 0, Reyes 0, Marcelo 0, Napoles 0.
NLEX110 -Soyud 27, Ravena 18, Quinahan 18, Alas 15, McAloney 14, Cruz 8, Miranda 6, Ayonayon 2, Semerad 2, Paniamogan 0, Varilla 0, Porter 0, Ighalo 0, Galanza 0.
Quarters: 27-30, 60-58, 86-85, 114-110.