NLEX looks invincible again. And it picked the right time to do so.
Pushed to the brink of elimination in the semifinals, the Road Warriors regained their old dominating form and crushed Cagayan Valley, 87-63, yesterday to move within a win of a fourth straight PBA D-League championship.
The Road Warriors jumped to a 22-12 start and just kept pouncing on the Rising Suns, who failed to get the usual fire from their reliables in Game 1 of the Aspirants Cup finals at the Blue Eagle Gym in Ateneo.
Ian Sangalang dropped 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the relentless charge of NLEX’s all-star crew.
“We just came in and matched their energy,” said NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez. “We started well, so maybe that’s why their (Rising Suns) energy dipped.”
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is set at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
Before the championship series started, NLEX looked like a team that was ripe for an upset. The Road Warriors looked vulnerable after narrowly escaping Jose Rizal University, 87-85, in the do-or-die Game 3 semifinals last Tuesday.
And Cagayan Valley certainly looked primed to play giant-slayer, having knocked out favored No. 2 seed Blackwater in their half of the semifinal bracket.
But Sangalang and starting guards Garvo Lanete and Borgie Hermida got the Warriors off to a strong first half where they led by 14 points, 49-35, at the break.
The erstwhile fiery crew of the Rising Suns, meanwhile, failed to sustain their semifinal brilliance with Eliud Poligrates, who topscored with 15, held to a 4-of-12 shooting from the field.
The Road Warriors floored the pedal in the third, using a 17-7 run to stretch the gap to 24 points, 66-42, getting balanced contributions from their all-star roster.
Greg Slaughter, sidelined in the last semifinal game due to a shoulder injury, came back with 11 points for the Road Warriors, who had a 50.8 shooting clip percentage from the field. Nico Salva, Hermida and Lanete added 10 markers each.
“This is only one game, we still have to wrap it up,” Fernandez said of his Road Warriors, the only champion the league has known since its inception in 2011.
NLEX 87—Sangalang 15, Slaughter 11, Salva 10, Hermida 10, Lanete 10, Long 9, Garcia 6, Amer 5, Pascual J. 4, Ganuelas 2, Alas 2, Sumalinog 2, Camson 1, Pascual R. 0.
CAGAYAN VALLEY 63—Poligrates 15, Webb 11, Bringas 11, Almazan 8, Lao 7, Forrester 4, Exciminiano 4, Celada 3, Pasculado 0, Canta 0, Melano 0, Montemayor 0.
Quarters: 26-21, 49-35, 70-46, 87-63