NLEX relied on a huge fourth-quarter run to cut down KIA Motors, 102-86, and seal a place in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup playoffs on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
After a poor-shooting first half, import Al Thornton finally caught fire in the final two quarters where he fired 25 of his team-high 33 points to lead the Road Warriors to a franchise-best fifth straight win.
Other than Thornton’s second-half shooting spree, NLEX’s pressure defense in the second half also spelled the difference in the victory that raised its record to 6-4 (win-loss) overall.
The Road Warriors forced the Carnival to a total of 15 turnovers in the second half alone.
KIA’s downfall was further hastened by the failure of gunners JR Cawaling, Reil Cervantes, and JR Buensuceso to connect from the outside.
“We had a very bad first half,” admitted NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez, whose team trailed by as much as 11 points in the third quarter.
“The effort was not really there. But we did good on our game plan against (Peter John) Ramos in the second half which makes the game turn in our favor.”
The 7-foot-3 Ramos finished with 41 points and 23 rebounds, though the Puerto Rican behemoth only had two in the final period as he struggled to score against veteran Asi Taulava.
The 6-foot-9 Taulava finished with another double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, despite coming off a bout with chronic migraine and a persistent fever that confined him at the hospital on Monday.
NLEX is now in solo fifth spot in the standings, while KIA dropped to a 4-6 slate in a tie with Barako Bull at 10th spot.
Although the Road Warriors have a mathematical chance of making it to the top two and reward them with one of the two twice-to-beat advantages in the playoffs, Fernandez said a place in the top six would be more realistic for them.
“In the four games we’ve lost, nandun yung top three teams. Although maraming nagsasabi na we have a chance, pero just getting to the best-of-three series will be good for us,” he added.
Teams that placed third to sixth at the end of the eliminations will play in a best-of-three quarterfinal series.
NLEX (102) -- Thornton 33, Villanueva J. 20, Cardona 16, Lingganay 12, Taulava 10, Villanueva E. 4, Borboran 4, Canaleta 3, Raymundo 0, Camson 0, Ramos 0, Arboleda H. 0.
KIA (86) -- Ramos 41, Cervantes 8, Buensuceso 7, Cawaling 6, Revilla 6, Avenido 6, Dehesa 5, Poligrates 3, Thiele 2, Yee 2, Alvarez 0, Pascual 0.
Quarterscores: 16-22; 36-45; 69-72; 102-86.