NLEX asserted its mastery of Alaska, hacking out an 87-83 victory on Wednesday night to reach the PBA semifinals for the first time in franchise history, this one in the Philippine Cup.
Coming off a 105-99 Game One win in their best-of-three series, the sixth-seeded Road Warriors saw the same script in Game Two, engaging the Aces in another see-saw battle before just proving steadier down the stretch to pull off the sweep against the third-seeded squad.
Kevin Alas and Michael Miranda hit the biggest baskets at crunchtime for the Road Warriors, who will face Magnolia in the best-of-seven semifinals starting on Saturday.
“I never thought we would sweep Alaska,” NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said as his team beat the Aces for the sixth straight time since Guiao took over last season. “Our luck just held up.”
“They really wanted this,” he added after steering his team to the Final Four in just his second season at the helm. “They’re very hungry to make the semifinals and make our fans happy, make our supporters happy, our management happy. This bunch of guys was able to at least get to the farthest level that we can get.”
Miranda came through with some clutch plays again, knocking down the triple that knotted the count at 83 with two minutes nad 47 seconds left in a game that saw 29 lead changes and 12 deadlocks.
Then the stretch big man drew a shooting foul and hit the two charities that put the Road Warriors up for good with a little over two minutes remaining.
Alas then put on the finishing touches as he drove for a tough, double-pump layup over Calvin Abueva that gave the Road Warriors a two-possession lead that they held on to after the Aces missed a handful of late attempts.
Alas finished with a team-high 18 points, nine boards, and one steal in 30 minutes, while Miranda added 12 points and three rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
JR Quinahan was a steady presence as usual with 16 points, five boards, two assists, and one steal for the Road Warriors, who prevailed despite Kiefer Ravena having an off-night after missing all but one of his 13 shots, although the rookie sensation still orchestrated the offense with 11 points, seven assists, and two steals in 29 minutes off the bench.
Calvin Abueva paced the Aces with 17 points, 16 boards, and one block, but missed a handful of shots down the stretch that could’ve pulled his team further.
NLEX 87 – Alas 18, Quinahan 16, Miranda 12, Ravena 11, Mallari 8, Fonacier 7, Soyud 5, Tiongson 3, Ighalo 3, Taulava 2, Al-Husaini 2, Gotladera 0
ALASKA 83 – Abueva 17, Excimiano 12, Casio 10, Racal 10, Manuel 9, Banchero 8, Thoss 8, Baclao 4, Enciso 2, Cruz 2, Magat 1, J. Pascual 0, Teng 0
Quarterscores:24-23, 49-43, 68-71, 87-83