MANILA, Philippines—For the second straight time, NLEX squandered a double-digit deficit as it scrambled to an 88-81 win over winless Informatics Tuesday in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup at the San Juan Gym.
It was an uncharacteristic performance from a three-time champion that left its head coach, Boyet Fernandez, fuming.
“I don’t know. We had very good practice the last four days, medyo nag-iba na naman ang mentality. It’s not really our offense that sucks, it’s our defense that sucks,” said Fernandez, whose team blew a 78-63 lead it built with 7:08 left.
Fernandez said the Road Warriors got a wake-up call in their last game after it barely escaped Air21-JRU, 91-87.
At first, NLEX looked like it learned from its mistakes until the Icons battled back to within four, 79-83, with still 2:01 left.
“We already told them that every team they face will bring their end game. Paulit-ulit na pero siguro pukpok sa utak para magising,” said Fernandez. “If we will not change our attitude on defense, we’re dead.”
Fortunately for NLEX, Informatics collapsed down the stretch.
Cruz delivered a poor pass off the inbounds followed by an advantage foul by Kirk del Rosario that stretched the Road Warriors’ lead to seven, 86-79, with 1:38 remaining.
The Icons, who dropped to 0-3, came up empty in their offensive trips before Kevin Alas made the insurance free throws that put NLEX back up by nine, 88-79, with 1:12 left.
Ian Sangalang led NLEX with 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Kevin Alas added 15 markers.
“The last three games ang ganda ng nilalaro ng mga kalaban namin, kami naman bumababa,” added Fernandez, whose team escaped to improve to 4-0.
The win pushed NLEX’s winning streak to 21, which started two conferences ago.
“I really don’t care about that, I only care about winning. Ayokong ma-pressure pa yung mga players about that,” Fernandez said.
The games will only get tougher for NLEX as it clashes with Fruitas and fellow unbeaten Big Chill in its next two games.
And Fernandez, hoping big man Greg Slaughter gets the green light to play by next week, knows his team can’t afford to play another sub-par game if it wants to keep winning.