Big time plays from their big men in the crucial minutes of the game paved the way for the NLEX Road Warriors to escape the Meralco Bolts and take home the 91-84 win, their first in the conference, Wednesday evening at the Cuneta Astrodome.
A hard-hitting first quarter saw the American imports step up for their teams, with Meralco’s Andre Emmet nailing 10 and NLEX’s Kwame Alexander putting up 12 markers. The lead exchanged hands minute after minute in a heated first quarter duel that ended with NLEX up by a thread 17-16.
The trade of salvos continued well into the second quarter, with neither team willing to let other get two steps ahead. Back-to-back baskets from 41-year old veteran Asi Taulava paved the way for NLEX to take the first two-possession lead of the ballgame, 38-31, with around three minutes left to play. Taulava’s six points in the last three minutes gave the Road Warriors the 40-36 lead just in time for the halftime break.
Another strong showing from the bigs of NLEX extended the lead to ten four minutes into the second half, 50-40. However, the Bolts easily found the means to come back to life, going on a 17-9 run in the next five minutes capped by a triple and lay-up from Japanese reinforcement Seiya Ando to come within two, 57-59. The NLEX frontcourt duo of Alexander and Taulava responded on the other end with back-to-back slams to help the Road Warriors pull away for the six-point lead. At the end of another twelve minutes, NLEX led by four, 63-59.
A collaboration between former college nemeses Enrico Vilanueva and Macmac Cardona kept the steady lead going for NLEX early in the fourth quarter. Around the halfway point, a floater from Cardona gave the Road Warriors an eight-point lead, 78-70. But six unanswered points care of import Emmet and swingman Cliff Hodge came Meralco’s way in the next two minutes, cutting the lead to two, 76-78.
But once again, the Bolts were unable to sustain the run, and with two minutes left to play, the Road Warriors led 85-78. The import Emmet once again tried to play hero, hitting a lay-up and a free throw with 46.1 seconds left in the clock to put an end to a Meralco cold spell in the final minutes of the ball game.
The dagger however came in the Road Warriors’ next possession, care of Jonas Villanueva, whose putback with 24 seconds left in the clock gave NLEX the six-point lead. With time on their side, the Road Warriors needed only to slow down the plucky Andre Emmet and secure the win by icing a couple more free throws that came their way.
Asi Taulava was named Player of the Game after finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Kwame Alexander had 29 points and 17 rebounds for NLEX. Andre Emmet led Meralco with 44 big points. Japanese import Ando had 18. No Meralco local scored in double digits for the night.
NLEX is currently at 1-2, while Meralco slides to 1-2 in the conference.
NLEX (91) – Alexander 29, Taulava 20, Canaleta 13, Cardona 9, Ramos 6, H. Arboleda 5, J. Villanueva 4, E. Villanueva 3, Borboran 2
Meralco (84) – Emmet 44 Ando 18, Hodge 6, Sena 4, Ferriols 4, Wilson 2, Hugnatan 2, David 2, Anthony 2