Playing like not a day has passed since his arrival in the PBA, 41 year old Asi Taulava once again came up big for the NLEX Road Warriors, exploding in the third quarter to lead his squad over the still slumping Blackwater Elite, 104-84, Friday night at the Ynares Center in Rizal.
Taulava had 24 points and 10 rebounds, shooting an impressive eight-of-eleven from the field. The 6’9″ center, who entered league back in 1998 via direct hire from Talk N Text predecessor Mobiline Phone Pals, grabbed the attention of the crowd and media teams alike when he entered the court at the start of the game wearing Converse Chuck Taylors, a shoe brand last seen on the hard court decades ago.
Led by the veteran duo of Taulava and Mac Cardona, the latter of whom had eleven points in the quarter, NLEX opened the period with an 11-0 run. Blackwater responded with better shooting, closing in on the Road Warriors by a mere three points, 16-19, late in the quarter. Another short spurt however gave NLEX the means to extend the lead, 26-20 at the end of the period.
Blackwater came within striking distance once more, 28-30, with seven and a half left on the clock in the second quarter, but things only turned sour for the young expansion team, as late explosions from Mark Borboran and Jonas Villanueva widened the gap. At the half, the score stood at 58-41, with the Road Warriors having led by as many 19 in the final minute of the quarter.
NLEX showed signs of life at the start of the third, going on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to single digits, 49-58. Things took a drastic shift in the following minutes, with a rampaging Taulava suddenly sinking basket after basket to extend the NLEX lead. Following the 41 year old veteran’s rally, NLEX found itself with a commanding 77-55 lead with four minutes left in the quarter. The remaining minutes saw more spotless shooting from the Road Warriors, who closed out the quarter with an 85-62 cushion.
Things slowed down in the final period, with both teams shifting their focus on the defensive glass. Blackwater however could not mount a big comeback, despite trimming the lead to fifteen halfway through the quarter. Entering the final two minutes, the Road Warriors led by twenty, erasing all possibility of a last-minute comeback from the league newcomers.
Cardona had 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists for the Road Warriors. Ogie Menor led Blackwater in scoring with 15 points. The Road Warriors improve to 3-4, while Blackwater, who has yet to taste victory since joining the PBA this season, slides to 0-8.
Photo courtesy of Nuki Sabio of PBA Images