NLEX escapes Villarias-led JRU, sets up Finals clash with CagayanBy Mark Giongco
MANILA, Philippines – Defending champion NLEX survived a furious fight back by Air21-JRU 87-85 for the last Finals slot Tuesday in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup at the Arena in San Juan.
John Villarias would’ve won it for the Heavy Bombers had his three-point shot gone in but it was well defended by Kirk Long as time expired.
“Kirk Long bailed us out today,” said NLEX head coach Boyet Fernandez. “It was a relief that we won this game. I was really worried about this JRU team since the eliminations.”
NLEX appeared to have wrapped up the game after Kevin Alas scored on a breakaway layup 74-62 with 7:11 remaining.
But with Villarias in tow, JRU refused to go away.
Villarias sank a trey that pulled the Bombers to within two 81-83 with still 1:48 left.
JRU was able to make stops but costly turnovers hurt its chances in the end.
Kevin Alas unloaded 12 of his 19 points in the third quarter while Ian Sangalang added 14 points and nine rebounds, including five offensive rebounds.
Anthony del Rio and Nard Pinto also had big games for JRU. Del Rio nailed a wide-open trey that brought the Bombers to within one 84-85 with 37.0 ticks left.
Ronald Pascual was fouled and made both free throws to give the Road Warriors, who set up a best-of-three championship series with Cagayan, a three-point cushion.
Khazim Mirza drew a foul and intentionally missed his second free throw that got the ball back to JRU after a review leading to Villarias’ miss from deep.
Greg Slaughter did not play due to a sore left shoulder but his presence was hardly missed with Jake Pascual and Sangalang combining for 27 points and 19 rebounds.