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NLEX squeak past Meralco in thriller



The NLEX Road Warriors notched their fourth win in five games as they survived the gritty Meralco Bolts, going down-the-wire, 93-91, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Tuesday evening.

NLEX dictated the pace of the game for the opening period. Meralco blanked all their three point attempts, as the Road Warriors built a 21-12 cushion, nine minutes into the match. Kelly Nabong scored two buckets in a mini 6-0 run put up by the Bolts, but a good dish by Simon Enciso to Mark Borboran in the dying seconds gave three more points to NLEX.

The second unit for Meralco scored a 10-3 run by the 8:27 mark of the second quarter. The Bolts had established the lead at that point, followed by a back-and-forth exchange for the next minutes of the first half. However, the last two minutes went the way of the Road Warriors as they inked a 10-0 spurt to close the first two quarters, six points of which came from the free throw line.

The trio of Glenn Khobuntin, Asi Taulava, and Kevin Alas combined for the opening blows to give the Road Warriors a 10-point cushion with 5:36 remaining in the third. For the next four minutes, the Bolts took charge and had momentum behind Chris Newsome’s seven point effort in the period. The transition game of Meralco also extended their lead to five, but a timely triple by Simon Enciso in the final possession of the quarter sliced the deficit down to two.

A frantic final period saw a closely-contested battle between the two squads. With 1:26 left in regulation, NLEX held a 90-84 lead behind Jonas Villanueva’s hot shooting in the quarter. Afterwards, four free throws combined from David and Newsome trimmed the lead down to single possession. Two late turnovers by NLEX opened the door for the Bolts, who capitalized down the stretch after a timeout. David made a corner triple after a loose ball scramble to cap a 7-0 run and give his team a 91-90 lead. However, Jared Dillinger fouled Anthony in the ensuing possession that led to two charity hits. On the next two possessions, Meralco failed to convert, leading to a close victory by the Road Warriors.

NLEX had more offensive rebounds, 15-9, that pushed them to more second chance points at the end of the match, 15-6. The Bolts shot a better clip from the field, but the Road Warriors scored 20 more points the foul stripe.

It was another productive night for Asi Taulava, who tallied 22 points and 21 rebounds. After the match, he praised his teammates and talked about his chemistry with Sean Anthony, who finished with 17 markers. “(I’d like to) Give credit to my teammates. They put me in a good position and right spots to get baskets and rebounds,” Taulava said after the game. “We played the system well. (For Sean Anthony) everything started for us in Air 21. Things picked up and we’re doing everything we can to help the team win.”

For the Bolts, who almost grabbed their second straight win, they were paced by Chris Newsome’s 21 point production. Gary David added 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the floor.

NLEX (4-2) will have a more than a week to prepare for their next game, which will be played on December 2, 4:15pm against the GlobalPort Batang Pier, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. For Meralco (1-6), their next assignment will be up against the Mahindra Enforcers on November 28, Saturday, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

The Scores:
NLEX (93) – Taulava 22, Villanueva J. 19, Anthony 17, Alas 16, Khobuntin 6, Enciso 5, Borboran 3, Villanueva E. 3, Lanete 2, Arboleda 0, Reyes 0.
Meralco(91) – Newsome 21, David 19, Hodge 14, Faundo 10, Al-Hussaini 10, Dillinger 9, Nabong 4, Hugnatan 2, Atkins 2, Amer 0, Alapag 0, Buenafe 0.
Quarterscores: 24-18, 46-37, 65-67, 93-91.