Phoenix Super LPG continued to impress in the PBA Philippine Cup, winning a third straight game by turning back a Blackwater side fighting for nothing but pride on Monday as the Fuel Masters muddled up the race for twice-to-beat privileges in the first round of the playoffs.
The Fuel Masters erased a 16-point deficit in the third period and hung on to carve out a 110-95 victory over the Elite at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G to forge a three-way tie for the lead with Barangay Ginebra and idle TNT at 7-3 and make the final two play dates of the elimination round as interesting as they can be.
The Fuel Masters, Gin Kings and Tropang Giga can all finish with 8-3 records, and in that case, Ginebra would most likely have the No. 1 seeding after beating both Phoenix and TNT.
Interestingly, Phoenix and TNT close out against the same foe, formidable Rain or Shine, which is also making a hard pitch for a quarterfinal bonus.
Ginebra was highly fancied to claim win No. 8, playing luckless Terrafirma at press time.
Alaska closed out with a 7-4 card after nipping NLEX in overtime, 122-119, in the second game to formally advance to the first round.
Maverick Ahanmisi scored 25 points and had 12 rebounds, capping his offensive brilliance with a layup that kept the Road Warriors in check in the extra period.
NLEX lost for the sixth time in 10 games despite getting 30 points from Kiefer Ravena and 24 from JR Quiñahan. The road Warriors’ final assignment—a no-bearing one—will be against Terrafirma on Wednesday.
“Tonight was one of those games where we felt like if you want to avoid the craziness down below [in the standings] and possibly have to play a KO [game] just to make it, then we have to come out and play,” Alaska coach Jeff Cariaso said.
Phoenix has been one of the steadiest teams the past week, and growing in such a short span of time has made young coach Topex Robinson proud.
“They just kept on talking and talking and communicating, finding ways to win because they all know they’re accountable for what we are trying to build here,” Robinson said in the customary winning coach’s interview.
Jason Perkins sparked the second half comeback and finished with a team-best 18 points, with Calvin Abueva and Matthew Wright shooting 17 points each and Abueva missing a second triple-double since his comeback from suspension by just two assists after grabbing 13 rebounds.
Brian Heruela, who Robinson feels has finally rediscovered his defensive groove, was offensive-minded against his former team and finished with 15 points built around a 4-for-6 clip from three-point zone.
“We talked about accountability. Accountability is everybody’s responsibility,” Robinson said of his wards.
Robinson, who got the formal appointment as head coach just last week, said Phoenix’s impeccable showing thus far is due to the focus that his players have.
“Rather than pressuring ourselves and feeling entitled, we’re just being happy where we are now,” he said.
Blackwater suffered yet another meltdown and lost for the seventh straight game in a 2-8 card, as the Elite have never come up with the form that made them win two of their first three games to make heads turn in the bubble.
KG Canaleta, the oldest player on the Blackwater roster, scored 21 points, while Mac Belo and Don Trollano chipped in 17 and 13, respectively.
Phoenix needs a victory over Rain or Shine if it wants that quarterfinal bonus, and Robinson has put everything in perspective for his wards, who were not among the pretournament favorites coming here.
“Whatever games we’ve yet to play are now just bonuses for us,” Robinson said. “We have nothing to lose.”
Blackwater, meanwhile, hopes to salvage at least one more win before heading home when it plays red-hot Magnolia, which is also desperate for a playoff berth, on the same day. INQ
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