NLEX proved that’s it’s not content to just reach uncharted territory as it held off Magnolia, 88-87, to take Game One of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals on Saturday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Making their first semifinal stint in franchise history, the Road Warriors seized the moment, most especially Alex Mallari who knocked down the go-ahead three-pointer from the top of the key off a kickout pass from Kiefer Ravena.
The rookie sensation Ravena then preserved the result with a defensive rebound, two free throws, and a steal that negated a late turnover as the Road Warriors drew first blood in their best-of-seven series.
Game Two is on Monday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We’re just in this for the ride,” NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said. “We’re enjoying the adventure. Parang kami yung gatecrashers dito sa party na ‘to, pero parang kami yung mas mage-enjoy kesa dun sa mga inimbita.”
How could they not? The sixth-seeded Road Warriors engaged the second-seeded Hotshots, a team that they had not beaten under Guiao, in a tight, defensive battle that saw 27 lead changes and 10 deadlocks.
It looked like the drought would continue as Ian Sangalang scored on a stab that put the Hotshots up, 84-83 with a minute and 15 seconds left in the game, but that set the stage for Mallari’s heroics.
Hovering at the top of the key, the lefty wingman caught a feed from a driving Ravena, gathered, and launched from beyond the arc for the triple that put them up for good with 14 seconds left.
Mallari finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, five rebounds, and two assists, while Ravena added 16 markers, including 11 in the payoff period, and two from the charity stripe that gave the Road Warriors a two-possession 88-84 lead – enough cushion to shrug off a late triple by Paul Lee.
Cyrus Baguio flashed his vintage form, firing a team-high 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting, five boards, four steals, and one assist, negating the resurgent play of a fellow veteran in PJ Simon who scattered 20 points, five rebounds, and one assist in less than 21 minutes.
Sangalang led the Hotshots with 21 points, nine caroms, one steal, and one block in 38 minutes that went for naught.
NLEX 88 - Baguio 17, Ravena 16, Mallari 14, Soyud 10, Miranda 7, Fonacier 7, Al-Hussaini 6, Alas 5, Quiñahan 4, Tiongson 2, Ighalo 0, Taulava 0, Gotladera 0
MAGNOLIA 87 - Sangalang 21, Simon 20, Barroca 9, Lee 8, Ramos 8, Reavis 6, Herndon 5, Pingris 5, Dela Rosa 5, Melton 0, Jalalon 0, Brondial 0
Quarterscores: 14-12, 32-27, 60-61, 88-87