Alaska holds off NLEX to move up to ideal position entering PBA knockout round
Calvin Abueva again delivered in the clutch for Alaska. Jerome Ascano

ALASKA leaned on a strong finishing kick to beat NLEX, 104-98, on Friday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum and get back on the winning track in time for the start of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup playoffs.

The Aces squandered a huge lead, but proved steadier in the clutch as they scored six unanswered points in one late stretch to pull off the hard-earned win to finish

Calvin Abueva and RJ Jazul made the biggest plays down the stretch, while Rob Dozier provided teh stability in his return for Alaska, which finished the eliminations with a 7-4 win-loss record to get assured of at least the third seed in the quarterfinals.

The Aces can still earn a playoff for the second seed if Tropang TNT beats San Miguel Beer in the last game of the eliminations.

Al Thornton, coming off a 69-point explosion, scattered 37 points and led the Road Warriors’ late stand that fell short.

“I don’t feel like you’re safe when Al Thornton’s in the gym…yet we made some plays and stops in the end,” Aces coach Alex Compton said.  

The Road Warriors finished the eliminations at 5-6 to stay as seventh seed with a twice-to-win disadvantage in the quarters.

For a while, though, NLEX looked poised for a reversal after they overhauled and early 20-point deficit and turned it into a close battle that saw 10 deadlocks, the last at 98 after a three-pointer by Thornton with a one minute and 51 seconds left.

But Abueva scored on a putback, Cyrus Baguio finished a fast-break play off a feed from Dozier, before Jazul scored on another transition play off his own steal from Sean Anthony to seal the deal.

Jazul scored 10 of his 18 points in the final frame, while Abueva led the Aces with 23 points eight boards, and three assists.

The scores:

Alaska 104 – Abueva 23, Thoss 19, Jazul 18, Dozier 14, Manuel 12, Baguio 7, Banchero 3, Exciminiano 3, Hontiveros 3, Dela Rosa 2, Baclao 0, Dela Cruz 0, Menk 0

NLEX 98 – Thornton 37, Anthony 24, Taulava 11, Enciso 9, Villanueva J. 7, Lanete 6, Borboran 2, Reyes 2, Alas 0, Arboleda 0, Cardona 0, Khobuntin 0, Villanueva E. 0, Camson 0

Quarterscores: 34-14, 51-45, 76-74, 104-98 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos