NLEX banked on a spirited second-half surge to repulse Barako Bull, 93-85, and put up its best start in its young history on Wednesday in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Seemingly underestimating the Energy, the Road Warriors fell into an early double-digit deficit, before climbing out of it by turning their defense up a notch on the way to their second straight win, the first time they started 2-0 in a conference since taking over the Air21 franchise last year.
Asi Taulava scored a team-high 14 points and hauled down 11 boards, which moved the Road Warriors star slotman past Philip Cezar (5,834) to No. 5 in the all-time rebounding list with a total of 5,839.
Mac Cardona added 12 points, while Sean Anthony sustained his all-around play, tallying 11 points, a career-high 19 boards, and two assists for the Road Warriors, who joined Rain or Shine on top of the standings.
“We really started flat,” Road Warriors coach Boyet Fernandez said. “We didn’t execute. It seemed we wanted to finish the game right away. But at halftime, I told them we just had to make one stop at a time and put up the same defensive mentality we’ve been showing since the preseason.”
The Road Warriors limited the Energy to just 35 percent (29-of-82) shooting from the field.
Kevin Alas bounced back from a forgettable NLEX debut by tallying 11 points, including three on a three-pointer that opened the game’s scoring, while Enrico Villanueva completed the Road Warriors’ double-digit scorers with 10 markers on top of four boards in 19 minutes.
Garvo Lanete finally made his pro debut, but wound up scoreless after missing a pair of shots of six minutes.
Willie Wilson likewise put up a huge double of 16 points and 17 boards along with six assists, and one steal, while JC Intal registered the same scoring output in a losing effort for the Energy, who failed to protect an early 13-point lead.
NLEX 93 – Taulava 14, Cardona 12, Alas 11, Anthony 11, Villanueva E. 10, Borboran 8, Camson 8, Villanueva J. 8, Khobuntin 7, Enciso 4, Apinan 0, Arboleda 0, Lanete 0, Reyes 0
BARAKO 85 – Intal 16, Wilson 16, Pennisi 11, Garcia 10, Cruz 7, Miranda 7, Urbiztondo 7, Baracael 4, Monfort 3, Lanete 2, Sorongon 2, Forrester 0, Fortuna 0
Quarterscores: 18-25, 38-45, 73-63, 93-85