NLEX showed that it is for real as it stunned San Miguel Beer, 103-100, on Sunday night to resume its transformation from a cellar dweller the last two conferences to a legitimate contender in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
Larry Fonacier knocked down the dagger triple from the top of the key in a second-chance play that gave the Road Warriors a two-possession lead and enough cushion to withstand a late scare by the grand slam-seeking Beermen.
The veteran gunner then delivered on the defensive end, forcing Alex Cabagnot to take a tough three-point shot that would’ve sent the game into overtime at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
As a result, the Road Warriors registered a sixth win in eight games to clinch a quarterfinal berth, while dealing the Beermen only their second loss in five games.
“Parang mahirap pa makapaniwala,” NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said. “Tinalo namin ang San Miguel in a tight game.”
“We’re developing some maturity, composure in the endgame,” he added. “It’s a good sign for us.”
Fonacier finished with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and one steal in 29 minutes as he spared Alex Mallari the blushes after the latter missed two charities with 3.2 seconds left that left a window open for the Beermen in the next play where Cabagnot missed that tough triple.
Aaron Fuller anchored the Road Warriors again with 26 points, 22 boards, two blocks, two steals, and one assist in 40 minutes, while JR Quinahan also registered a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards that came with the assist that led to the Fonacier triple that spelled the biggest difference.
Wendell Mckines tallied 28 points, 14 boards, and six assists to lead the Beermen, who rallied from an early 15-point deficit as they took a 70-68 lead following an Arwind Santos right-wing three-pointer to end the third quarter.
The Road Warriors, though, refused to budge as they regained the lead and proved steadier in the endgame.
Marcio Lassiter, Cabagnot, and Santos finished with 19 points apiece in a losing effort as they took the cudgels again in the limited presence of June Mar Fajardo who was held to just six points and six boards in 20 minutes.
NLEX 103 – Fuller 26, Quiñahan 17, Fonacier 16, Mallari 10, Tiongson 8, Alas 7, Soyud 7, Baguio 5, J. Villanueva 3, Lastimosa 2, Al-Hussaini 2, Taulava 0
SMB 100 – McKines 28, Lassiter 19, Santos 19, Cabagnot 19, Fajardo 6, Ross 4, Ganuelas-Rosser 2, Espinas 2, Heruela 1, Tubid 0
Quarterscores: 25-24, 48-39, 68-70, 103-100