By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE NLEX Road Warriors played their first game in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup without prized rookie Kiefer Ravena on Wednesday night but still managed to book a win on a collective effort, defeating and keeping the Blackwater Elite winless, 93-89.
Playing sans Mr. Ravena, who could miss a considerable time following his suspension by FIBA after failing a doping test while playing for the national team, the Road Warriors made full use of the personnel they are left with in getting back on the winning track in the midseason PBA tournament and improving to 2-4.
NLEX got off to a strong start, outscoring Blackwater, 14-4, in the first five minutes of the contest.
But the Elite would go on a 14-7 run after to narrow the gap to 21-18 with 2:24 remaining in the opening quarter.
When the smoke cleared in the first 12 minutes, the Road Warriors were holding an eight-point cushion, 26-18.
NLEX would continue to hold command of the game to start the second quarter with Larry Fonacier leading the way.
Slowly but surely though the Elite would creep their way back into the match, as JP Erram, Mike DiGregorio and returning import Henry Walker started to make their presence felt on the offensive end.
Blackwater seized the lead, 40-39, just as the quarter entered the last two minutes but NLEX would regain its footing as the second period drew to a close to hold a two-point advantage, 42-40, by the halftime break.
In the third quarter Blackwater Elite would start things with a 10-2 run to go ahead, 50-44, with 9:33 left.
NLEX though did not allow themselves to fall much behind, showing grit and determination even when the Elite tried to pull away.
The count stood at 63-all at the 3:01 mark before Blackwater made an 8-4 run to finish the third quarter with a 71-67 advantage.
The Elite built on the strong finish they had in the previous quarter to start the payoff period, outgunning the Road Warriors, 8-3, to extend their lead to 79-70 with two and half minutes lapsing.
Blackwater continued to hold sway until NLEX, led by import Arnett Moultrie, started to make their move and charged back.
Down by eight points, 86-78, with 4:31 on the clock, the Road Warriors rolled to a 9-0 blast to take the upper hand, 87-86, at the 2:44 mark.
A triple by Alex Mallari a minute later extended NLEX’s lead to four points, 90-86.
Free throws by Allein Maliksi and Mr. DiGregorio pulled the Elite to within one point, 90-89, with 40 ticks to go.
Blackwater had a chance to reclaim the lead by a botched play by Mr. Maliksi led to a three-point play by Mr. Maliksi on the other end to stretched their lead to 93-89 with nine seconds remaining and never looked back after.
Mr. Moultrie led NLEX with 26 points, 16 rebounds and five assists with Juami Tiongson, Messrs. Mallari and Fonacier adding nine points or more each.
Six other Road Warriors had five points or better to help keep the NLEX motor humming in the absence of Mr. Ravena and injured Kevin Alas.
“We are trying to stay in the race and this win keeps our hopes for a quarterfinal spot alive. We’re trying to get more from everybody. Even those who did not play previously have to pick up the slack left by Kiefer and Kevin Alas. We will try to survive. Kiefer’s situation took us by surprise and we did not plan for it,” said NLEX coach Yeng Guiao, touching on the issue of Mr. Ravena who was banned by FIBA for 18 months.
Mr. DiGregorio, meanwhile, finished with 25 points to lead Blackwater, which dropped to 0-7 after the loss.