After trailing for three quarters, the NLEX Road Warriors now have their second win of the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, turning the tables on the still winless Star Hotshots in a heated fourth period en route to the 106-99 win, Saturday evening in Binan City, Laguna.
PJ Simon led Star to establish the early dominance, scoring five points to give the Hotshots a 7-0 start. The Hotshots managed to build a double digit lead, 14-4, around four minutes into the quarter, but as expected the Road Warriors would soon find the means to put some life into their campaign through their bigs. Baskets from frontcourt enforcers Al Thornton, Asi Taulava, and Sean Anthony paved the way for NLEX to come within five, 16-21, with two minutes left in the quarter. The remainder of the quarter saw the Star guards take on the scoring reins to counter the bigman-led NLEX offensive. At the end of the first twelve minutes, Star led by four, 26-22.
Garvo Lanete was first of the NLEX backcourt to break out of the first quarter’s slump, opening the second with a triple to trim the lead to a hairline, 25-26. With the NLEX bigs visibly worn out, the Hotshots managed to gain some distance thanks to baskets from the veteran duo of James Yap and PJ Simon. Despite another show of firepower from their seasoned import Thornton, who nailed 9 points late in the quarter, the Road Warriors would only continue to miss out on the much-needed basket to steal the lead. At the half, the lead was still with Star, 55-50.
There was no change in the narrative come the second half. With the rest of the team struggling to find their easy baskets, it was Thornton bringing the goods for the Road Warriors, sinking shot after shot on their end of the court. But the lead would stay with Star, thanks to guards PJ Simon and Mark Barroca keeping the steady stream of baskets coming for the Hotshots. Though the Road Warriors would manage to come within one point several times in the quarter, the Hotshots found the right stops to pull away. At the end of three quarters, Star led 82-77.
But what the Road Warriors were working towards came into fruition as soon as the fourth quarter started. A triple from Lanete and a three-point play completed by Asi Taulava gave NLEX the lead for the first time in the game, 83-82, just a minute and half into the period. With the shots now falling on their side of the court, it was the Road Warriors’ turn to hold on to the steady lead. A two-minute dry spell from Star gave NLEX the means to pull away for their biggest lead of the ballgame, 100-91, with just two and a half minutes left on the clock.
The hero from seasons past, Denzel Bowles, kept the fire alive for Star as the quarter entered the two-minute mark. Two crucial baskets from the returning import put the Hotshots within a manageable three points, 97-100, with a minute left in the ball game. Sophomore Kevin Alas hit a layup on the other end to extend the lead , but more free throws from the import put Star within three once more, 99-102.
In a strange turn of events, Bowles would throw the ball away after an errant pass to PJ Simon. After drawing the foul, Jonas Villanueva bricked two free throws, but Al Thornton came to the rescue for NLEX, sinking the putback off the missed second free throw to seal the win for NLEX.
Garvo Lanete took home the Best Player of the Game honor after his career-high 21 points, hitting three of seven attempts for the arc. Al Thornton led the scoring for NLEX with 35 points. Veteran Asi Taulava added 14.
Denzel Bowles had 30 points for Star, with Allein Maliksi and PJ Simon adding 21 apiece.
NLEX (2-1) face the Mahindra Enforcers on Friday, February 26 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum while Star (0-3) look for their first win on Wednesday, February 24 against the Blackwater Elite also in the same venue.
NLEX (106) – Thornton 35, Lanete 21, J. Villanueva 12, Taulava 14, Alas 10, Anthony 9, Enciso 3, Reyes 2.
Star (99) – Bowles 30, Maliksi 21, Simon 21, Yap 10, Pingris 9, Barroca 6, Melton 2.
Quarterscores: 22-26, 50-55, 77-82, 106-99.