Unforgiving defensively and playing the other end relentlessly, Phoenix Pulse on Wednesday stopped NorthPort dead on its tracks, with a 97-87 win, denying the Batang Pier an outright top two berth in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao.
The Fuel Masters gave the Batang Pier—a squad that clamps down on its foes to under a hundred points—a dose of their own defensive medicine as they never allowed NorthPort to get into any groove on the way to rising to a 3-4 card.
A winner of their last four games, the Batang Pier missed grabbing the solo lead from idle TNT after dropping to 7-2, and they would need to get that one more win for a top two berth against either Columbian or Meralco.
Matthew Wright spearheaded the Fuel Masters valiant stand as he was hot from afar all night on the way to 28 points.
He also finished with six assists and five rebounds.
“You just blank out. I’m just happy my teammates put me
in a position to succeed,” Wright said of his sterling offensive game, before pointing a finger at the bigger reason that they won.
“We did a much better job [on defense] today. As long as we rotate on defense, scrambling, we have a chance [in winning],” the Gilas Pilipinas gunslinger added.
Coach Louie Alas believes it was the team’s effort clearing the boards that gave them a fighting chance against a top-ranked team.
“We’re becoming consistent once again with our strength, which is our rebounding,” he said. “Fifty-six [against] 46 in rebounding, so [that meant] extra possessions for us.”
“While we weren’t able to stop their fast-break points, we did contain it,” Alas added.
Three more from Phoenix’s starting unit turned in double-digit outputs, with import Richard Howell posting 18 points to go with 15 rebounds and three steals.
Mo Tautuaa and Kevin Ferrer paced NorthPort with 19 and 18 points, respectively. Robert Bolick and skipper Sean Anthony came off the bench to finish in double digits and combine for 27 points.
Prince Ibeh, NorthPort’s import, had just 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“They’re a good team. First place for a reason. But we just had to pick our poison,” Wright said of the new-look Batang Pier, who can still finish at No. 2 even if they go 1-1 in their last two games to close out elimination.
Alas, while commending Wright for his pinpoint shooting, noted that his ward could still work on “controlling his emotions” as their campaign plods along, and more importantly with the defending champions up next.
The Fuel Masters and the Gin Kings—who are on a two-game winning streak—tangle Friday at the Big Dome.
NorthPort’s penultimate assignment is Columbian, which it goes up against a week from now also at Smart Araneta.