THE PHOENIX Petroleum Fuel Masters opened their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup campaign in the column after beating the Kia Picanto, 118-105, in their tournament-opening encounter yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Relying on a collective effort, with import Eugene Phelps showing the way, the Fuel Masters bucked a spirited fight from Picanto en route to booking their first win in the season-ending PBA tournament.
The contest started tight with both teams going back and forth before Phoenix put pedal to the metal in the second fold of the opening quarter to take a 33-24 lead in the end.
Phoenix continued to keep Kia at bay in the second quarter with Mr. Phelps as well Cyrus Baguio and Gelo Alolino on the firing end.
Picanto’s Bong Galanza kept his team within striking distance with timely outside sniping but the Fuel Masters would continue to hold sway by the halftime break, 57-48.
Kia, with veteran coach Joe Lipa manning the sidelines, charged back at the beginning of the third canto, going on a 14-8 run to narrow Phoenix’s lead to just three points, 65-62, midway into the quarter.
But the Fuel Masters would stop the bleeding, countering with a 7-0 blast in the next three minutes with JC Intal and Joseph Eriobu putting their team on their shoulders to create some distance, 72-63.
The quarter finished with Phoenix still on top of Kia, 83-75.
The Picanto tried to claw their way back early in the payoff period only to be continuously rebuffed by the Fuel Masters.
Kia managed to cut its deficit to eight points, 93-85, with 6:35 remaining in the contest but that was the closest it would get as Phoenix held on to book the victory.
Mr. Phelps was the high point man in the balanced Phoenix attack with 33 points on top of 14 rebounds and three blocks.
Mr. Intal had 19 points while RJ Jazul added 18. Messrs. Eriobu and Baguio were the two other Phoenix players in double figures with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Import Markeith Cummings, meanwhile, led Kia with 31 points and 10 rebounds with Mr. Galanza adding 15 and Chito Jaime 11.
“I have been training with the team for over a month now and I was excited to play in our first game. We are happy we got this win,” said Mr. Phelps, named player of the game after.
He went on to say that they still have to work on their game, particularly on defense, if they are to achieve their goals in the tournament.
“We have to improve on our defense. I think we allowed them over a 100 points and that will not make the cut against the strong teams,” the Phoenix import added.
The two teams return on Saturday with Phoenix facing the Alaska Aces and Kia the NLEX Road Warriors.