Despite trailing for almost the entirety of the first half, a heroic late game performance from import Al Thornton paved the way for the NLEX Road Warriors to pull off a 102-96 victory over the Meralco Bolts, sending Norman Black’s squad to their second straight loss in the 2016 PBA Comissioner’s Cup tournament.
The first quarter featured a battle from the three-line, with Baser Amer and Jonas Villanueva sinking big triples for NLEX, and Jimmy Alapag and Chris Newsome doing the long-range damage for Meralco. The typically battle-ready NLEX bigs, however, struggled to find their footing in the quarter and to sink the easy inside baskets, a problem they rarely face. The Meralco gunners’ consistent barrage from the arc led to the Bolts escaping the quarter with the lead, 31-24.
Another strong showing from the Meralco gunners, who benefitted from eight early points from Chris Newsome, paved the way for the Bolts to keep their lead as the second quarter unfolded. After a quiet first period, NLEX found their spark in a resurgent Al Thornton, who exploded for six unanswered points that brought the Road Warriors to within two, 42-44, halfway through the quarter. Despite Thornton’s resurgence, the Road Warriors were unable to find a way to slow down the Bolts’ run-and-gun and deadly fastbreak press. By the halftime buzzer, the Bolts had pulled away once more, 57-50.
The Bolts led by double digits, 62-50, early in the third, but Thornton’s renewed push heightened once more. A nine-point explosion from the former NBA player pushed the Road Warriors to striking distance late in the quarter. The late rally was capped off by a triple from Sean Anthony that took the lead, 76-75. Following another trade of salvos between the two sides, the Bolts escaped with the lead in their hands, 81-79.
As their import took some much-needed rest, the NLEX locals finally found their spark. Baskets from veterans Enrico Villanueva and Asi Taulava, along with jumpers from Garvo Lanete, paved the way for the Road Warriors to pull away by as much as ten, 93-83, early in the quarter. After a quiet first three quarters, Meralco reinforcement Arinze Onuaku finally found his touch, and led the rally that brought the Bolts within three, 96-99, with around just two minutes left on the clock.
A triple from Simon Enciso made it a six-point game, 102-96, with 31 seconds left on the clock, but what was supposed to be the NLEX dagger was answered by Jared Dillinger on the other end with a trey of his own to bring it back to three. But the Road Warriors were able to make the crucial stops and sink the free throws that came their way to secure the win in the last few heated possessions.
Thornton took home Best Player of the Game honors for his heroics. He had 38 points and 12 rebounds, and shot 3 of 6 from the arc. Garvo Lanete led the Road Warriors with 14 points.
Onuaku led Meralco with 16 points and 18 rebounds. Despite the loss, Meralco had outstanding performances from their bench players, with Baser Amer and Jared Dillinger both contributing 14 markers each.
NLEX improve to 3-3, while Meralco slide to 5-2.
NLEX (104 ) – Thornton 38, Lanete 14, Alas 10, Anthony 9, Taulava 8, Khbuntin 7, E Villanueva 7, Enciso 6, J Villanueva 3, Reyes 2, Arboleda 0, Borbran 0.
Meralco (99) – Onuaku 16, Amer 14, Dillinger 14, Alapag 11, Ferriols 10, Newsome 10, Faundo 8, Hugnatan 8, Hodge 4, Bono 2, Caram 2, Buenafe 0, David 0.
Quarterscores: 24-31, 50-57, 81-79, 104-99.