MANILA, Philippines – Kevin Alas took charge during a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter to push the NLEX Road Warriors past the Meralco Bolts, 100-94, and nab their fifth victory in the 2017 PBA Governors' Cup on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Road Warriors bounced back from their first loss of the conference, a 110-97 setback to the Barangay Ginebra Kings last August 5 in Pangasinan.
Moreover, it marked the first time that Meralco lost in the conference after opening the Governors' Cup with four consecutive victories.
Alas had 21 points off the bench, along with four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Their import, Aaron Fuller, had 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting to go along with 18 rebounds.
"It's a good way to bounce back from our Ginebra loss," said NLEX coach Yeng Guiao. "We were really disappointed after that. We did our preparation for this game immediately after that."
"This is a good test, actually. Meralco is a really good team, and I think we passed a really good test today," he added.
Meralco led by as much as 12 points, 21-9, early in the first frame, but was unable to hold on to the advantage. It turned out to be a back-and-forth game featuring several deadlocks, especially in the final period.
Alas took charge in the payoff period, giving NLEX its first lead of the second half off a transition lay-up for a 73-72 advantage with 8:52 left. After Reynel Hugnatan and Allen Durham conspired to push Meralco ahead, 83-81, with 5:29 to go, Alas assisted on a bucket for Fuller to knot the count at 83 with 4:48 left.
Fuller's bucket turned out to be the start of a stunning 12-3 run that turned a slim 81-83 deficit into a commanding 93-86 lead for the Road Warriors with just 2:10 left. Alas had two crucial buckets in the run – first a circus lay-up that turned into a three-point play with 4:07 left, then a fastbreak lay-up with 3:09 to go.
Meralco last threatened after Baser Amer knocked down a three-pointer to make it a four-point game, 93-89, with 1:58 left, but veteran big man JR Quiñahan came through with a crucial tip-in to make it 95-89 with just 90 seconds left.
Though Durham kept Meralco in the game with a lay-up in their next possession, the Road Warriors were able to hit their charities to ice the game.
"This is a good character test for us," said Alas. "Napakita namin na we can match up with the strong teams in the PBA."
Key to NLEX's victory was their 21 offensive rebounds, which led to 18 second chance points – none bigger than the bucket that Quiñahan hit to keep Meralco at bay. Their offensive rebounding helped the Road Warriors recover from a subpar 39% shooting from the field.
Durham led Meralco with 26 points and 14 rebounds, but also committed six turnovers. Veteran big man Reynel Hugnatan was the Bolts' best player for long stretches of the game, and he finished with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
NLEX improved to 5-1, while Meralco dropped to 4-1.
NLEX 100 - Fuller 25, Alas 21, Fonacier 16, Quinahan 10, Mallari 8, Soyud 5, Lastimosa 5, Tiongson 3, Al-Hussaini 2, Ighalo 2, Taulava 2, Rios 1, J. Villanueva 0.
MERALCO 94 - Durham 26, Hugnatan 25, Amer 14, Sedurifa 9, Dillinger 8, Nabong 7, Newsome 5, Lanete 0, Caram 0, Chua 0, Tolomia 0.
Quarter scores: 16-24, 41-44, 63-64, 100-94.
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