NLEX pounced early on a grieving Blackwater side, 96-90, to start its PBA Governors’ Cup campaign on a high note on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Henry Walker sparked the Road Warriors’ early onslaught, scattering 24 in the first quarter, alone, as they built a 17-point lead that was enough to negate a late comeback by the Elite, who honored fallen player Gilbert Bulawan before the game by reitring his playing jersey.
“We really had to start strong and match the energy of Blackwater,” Road Warriors coach Boyet Fernandez said. “I thought that they would get an inspiration from Gilbert na they will go hard and strong. Pero kami yung nag-start ng magana.”
Walker, a former Alaska import, finished with a PBA career-high 44 points on 15-of-25 shooting on top of six boards, two assists, and two steals in 41 minutes.
Kevin Alas, new recruit Mac Baracael, and Jonas Villanueva also scored in twin digits for the Road Warriors, who didn’t need Asi Taulava to do the heavy lifting as the ageless stalwart’s five points and nine boards in 22 minutes off the bench were enough to help them prevail.
The Road Warriors did see the Elite threaten behind Carlo Lastimosa, who fired 10 of his 16 points in the final frame, including a layup that pulled them to within six points, 94-88, after they trailed, 61-78, late in the third quarter.
But the comeback proved too little, too late for the Elite, who drew 27 points and 17 rebounds from import Eric Dawson.
NLEX 96 – Walker 44, Alas 12, Baracael 12, Villanueva J. 11, Taulava 5, Soyud 4, Forrester 3, Lanete 3, Villanueva E. 2, Akl 0, Khobuntin 0, Monfort 0, Reyes 0
BLACKWATER 90 – Dawson 27, Lastimosa 16, Cortez 14, Sena 8, Sumang 8, Canada 5, Pascual 5, Gamalinda 4, Dela Cruz 2, Erram 1, Cervantes 0
Quarterscores: 31-16, 53-39, 78-68, 96-90