Matthew Wright turns up the nasty as Phoenix ends NLEX win run
Typhoon victims. A two-game slide. Facing the league’s No. 1 team. Phoenix didn’t want for motivation on Christmas Day.
“It was just a must-win game today,” Matthew Wright, the Fuel Masters’ top gun, said on Saturday after Phoenix wrapped up a 102-93 triumph against erstwhile unbeaten NLEX in the PBA Governors’ Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Wright dove straight to the naughty list—at least from the Road Warriors viewpoint—by dropping 23 points during the first game of the league’s two-day holiday showcase, throwing in nine rebounds and four assists to help Phoenix survive the absence of import Paul Harris.
Harris played just two minutes and thirty-eight seconds, scoring just two points, after aggravating a discomfort in his left hamstring, but five of his teammates picked up the slack by scoring in double figures to deal NLEX just its first loss in five outings this conference.
“[We thought] that this game would determine our season. We’re back in the win column and we beat a really good team—NLEX—the No. 1 in the league right now,” Wright said.
But more than righting the ship after gut-wrenching losses to Rain or Shine and Barangay Ginebra last week, the Fuel Masters were looking to provide solace amid the devastation wrought by Typhoon “Odette” in the south, with Wright playing lead Mr. Nice Guy.
“I told the guys before our pregame prayer, let’s not focus on winning or losing. Let’s just go out there and try to inspire,” Wright said. “Right now, especially in the Visayas, obviously everyone knows what’s going on. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I can’t get them out of my head—videos [of the devastation] that I saw.”
And his teammates responded.
Justin Chua, Chris Banchero, Aljun Melecio and Jason Perkins chipped in double digit scores, with Chua turning in his finest scoring of the year with 19 points, including some key baskets that kept the Road Warriors at arm’s length down the stretch.
Chua’s baskets, however, were no bigger than Wright’s late triples, which he celebrated by blowing a kiss to the crowd.
Unable to provide a winning feeling for its fans, NLEX did its share to alleviate the condition of the typhoon-hit areas in the country, helping the PBA pool relief funds for the storm’s victims. The Road Warriors raised P50,000 for relief efforts, which they added to the P100,000 donation of the league.
Calvin Oftana tried to rally NLEX with his 18 points while Don Trollano chipped in 16 points as the duo tried to make up for a subpar outing from KJ McDaniels, who was held to 12 points. Kevin Alas and Paul Varilla also finished with twin digit scores for the Road Warriors.
“We know that we gave our best. The last two games we gave it our best and yet we were short. Maybe that’s the reason why we were confident still because we gave Rain or Shine and Ginebra a good run for their money,” said Phoenix mentor Topex Robinson, whose crew improved to 3-2.
“We never stopped playing and that’s most important for us,” added Robinson, who also wanted to provide entertainment for typhoon victims—and poked fun at himself to stress that point.
“We’re also doing our best for those hit by the typhoon. That’s more important right now than celebrating somebody else’s birthday,” he said. Robinson turned 42 on Saturday.
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