NLEX denied Kia of a happy ending to its inaugural campaign in the PBA, scoring an 88-80 victory over the eliminated expansion team on Sunday in the Philippine Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Road Warriors staved off a tough stand by the Sorento, who drew a career-high 34 points from Reil Cervantes while playing without playing-coach Manny Pacquiao.
But not even Cervantes’ big game could keep the Sorento from falling to their 10th straight loss after an opening-day win over fellow expansion squad Blackwater.
Asi Taulava and KG Canaleta spearheaded the quarterfinals-bound Road Warriors, who snapped their own three-game skid to finish the elimination round with four wins in 11 games.
“We stopped the bleeding,” Road Warriors coach Boyet Fernandez said. “Hopefully this win will give us confidence going into the playoffs.”
While the evergreen Taulava made his presence felt down low anew with 19 points and 14 boards against seven turnovers, it was Canaleta who buried the baskets that gave the Road Warriors enough cushion to survive a Sorento rally.
Canaleta buried a triple from the top of the key that gave the Warriors their biggest lead at 67-57, before the Sorento mounted a run and tied it last at 77-all after a Hyram Bagatsing layup with under three minutes to go.
Cervantes almost singlehandedly carried the Sorento in the comeback, pumping in 17 points in the final frame.
Jayare Buensuceso led the Sorento early, scoring 14 of his 18 markers in the first half, where they protected a slim lead.
NLEX 88 – Taulava 19, Canaleta 16, Ramos 11, Villanueva E. 10, Cardona 7, Villanueva J. 7, Borboran 6, Baloria 4, Camson 3, Arboleda H. 3, Lingganay 2, Raymundo 0, Apinan 0, Arboleda W. 0
KIA 80 – Cervantes 34, Buensuceso 18, Bagatsing 11, Custodio 5, Thiele 3, Burtscher 3, Poligrates 2, Revilla 2, Pascual 2, Ighalo 0, Dehesa 0, Webb 0, Alvarez 0, Bartolo 0
Quarterscores: 21-25, 40-42, 62-57, 88-80