NLEX ends slump, trips Ginebra
In what was practically a fight for survival, NLEX found it’s A-game again and brought down a league powerhouse that had even its outspoken coach dazed somewhat.
The Road Warriors rallied from 14 points down in the third period and overcame extreme disadvantage in size to trip Barangay Ginebra to prevail, 81-78, that snapped a four-game slide and put the team back in the PBA Philippine Cup playoff hunt at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay.
Yeng Guiao doesn’t have an explanation as to how they came out on top of a wild finish that saw his Warriors dodge one bullet after the other before rising to 3-4 and tying their victims to be in the middle of the 12-team pack.
“It was really tough. It was just sheer determination and hard work,” Guiao said. “We don’t know that we won, so please don’t ask me how we won that game.”
The Warriors came into the game as the decided underdogs, what with that four-game skid and the 7-foot Greg Slaughter returning to action for Ginebra after a two-game absence. The Kings were also riding the momentum of a huge upset of defending three-time champion San Miguel Beer.
“We have given ourselves a chance to be in the fight [for the playoffs],” Guiao went on. “And we broke the losing streak. That is very important.”
Veteran Cyrus Baguio scored 11 points in the fourth and was the main reason why the Road Warriors had a shot at winning it in the endgame.
And while NLEX was practically seamless when it mattered, the Kings sputtered, lapsing into a series of bad shots and one error by Sol Mercado in checking back into the game that gave the Road Warriors a free point.
Mercado failed to report to the scorer’s table in replacing Slaughter, and Larry Fonacier capped off a 17-point night by making the technical free throw for 80-78 with 4.4 seconds left.
Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio also had crucial misses from the field which could have tied it all up, and Slaughter split his charities with 17.3 left which could have knotted the game at 79 and applied more pressure on the Road Warriors.
Still, the road remains tough for NLEX, a pre-tournament favorite which won its first two games before going on a tailspin. The Road Warriors still have Meralco, Alaska, Blackwater and TNT on their schedule as they shoot for a place in the upper half of the playoff bracket.
Meanwhile, the Beermen dispute the solo lead with sister team Magnolia Sunday night at Ynares Center in Antipolo, with San Miguel shooting to bounce back from that loss to Ginebra.
Game time is 6:45 p.m. after Alaska seeks to extend a five-game winning run of its own against GlobalPort at 4:30 p.m.
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