KIRK Long defused Byron Villarias’ long bomb as time expired to help NLEX squeak past Air21-Jose Rizal University, 87-85, on Tuesday and advance to the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup finals at the San Juan Arena.
With just three seconds to go, Villarias was forced to throw a three-pointer that was blocked by Long, sending the Road Warriors to a fourth straight finals appearance in the developmental league.
Before that shot, Villarias had hit seven of 11 shots from beyond the three-point arc.
The Road Warriors dispute the title with the much-improved Cagayan Valley Rising Suns in a best-of-three affair starting on Thursday at the Blue Eagle Gym inside the Ateneo campus in Quezon City.
The Bombers had seven of their 11 three-pointers in the fourth.
Villarias finished with 25 points. The Heavy Bombers shooting guard hit six of 10 three-pointers in Game Two and converted a total of 17 triples in the series.
NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez was relieved to have escaped with a win after Villarias, who also holds the all-time league record with 36 points in one game, went berserk from three-point range.
“I credit the boys especially Kirk. He was not playing well but when it comes to bailing us out, credit to Kirk,” said Fernandez.
The Heavy Bombers ended an impressive conference that saw them overcome Big Chill’s twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals and going toe-to-toe with the Road Warriors in a three-game series.
Anthony Del Rio hit a triple to pull JRU within a point, 85-84, with 37 seconds left in the fourth. But JRU had two short-lived possessions that ended in turnovers that led to Ronald Pascual burying two free throws with 9.8 seconds left.
Khazim Mirza grabbed Villarias’ missed triple and was sent to the free throw line after an NLEX foul. Mirza made the first and deliberately missed the second free throw and the ball was tapped out of bounce by NLEX to allow JRU to set up for one last play.
The Heavy Bombers went for the win with Villarias but Long was there for the game-winning block.
Kevin Alas had 12 of his 19 points in the third period to provide NLEX with enough cushion entering the fourth period. Ian Sangalang posted 14 points for the Road Warriors, who played without Greg Slaughter due to a shoulder injury.
John Pinto had 15 points, while Dexter Maiquez also had 15 before fouling out in the final moments of the game.
NLEX (87) – Alas 19, Sangalang 14, J. Pascual 13, R. Pascual 11, Camson 9, Salva 7, Sumalinog 4, Lanete 4, Long 3, Hermida 3, Amer 0, Garcia 0.
Air21 JRU (85) – Villarias 25, Pinto 15, Maiquez 15, Del Rio 13, Mirza 10, Mabulac 6, Paniamogan 1, Lopez 0, Almario 0, Ighalo 0, Miranda 0, Apinan 0.
Quarterscores: 19-15; 40-32; 64-57; 87-85.