NLEX withstood a gallant stand by Blackwater, hacking out a 90-86 victory on Friday to open its PBA Philippine Cup campaign on a high note at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Road Warriors saw the Elite, in only their second season in the league, stand toe to toe with them, before proving steadier in the endgame to pull off the hard-earned win.
Asi Taulava registered a game-high 19 points and made all his four charities in the payoff period that kept the Elite at bay, while trade acquisition Sean Anthony put up an all-around game of 14 points, 12 boards, seven assists, and two steals.
“It was a tough game,” Road Warriors coach Boyet Fernandez said. “Sean stepped up in the fourth, Asi made his free throws, and our defense held up.”
Simon Enciso impressed in his pro debut, tallying 15 points, three boards, and three assists for the Road Warriors, who joined Rain or Shine as the tournament’s early leaders.
Blackwater counterpart Keith Agovida also stood out in his first game as a freshman, tallying a team-high 15 points, five boards, and three assists off the bench in a losing effort.
Agovida’s last two points came in the last 31 seconds when the lefty forward scored on a contented under-goal stab that nudged the Elite within 86-87.
But Taulava retaliated with two free throws, then Elite forward Reil Cervantes missed on a desperation three-pointer on the other end that put the game, which saw six lead changes and five deadlocks, to bed.
Raphy Reyes also provided a spark off the bench, scoring 13 points for the Elite, who wasted a 69-64 lead early in the fourth.
NLEX 90 – Taulava 19, Enciso 15, Anthony 14, Borboran 10, J. Villanueva 8, Apinan 6, Cardona 5, Reyes 5, Alas 4, Khobuntin 4, Arboleda 0
Blackwater 86 – Agovida 15, Reyes 13, Cervantes 12, Ballesteros 10, Lastimosa 7, Gamalinda 6, Sena 6, Cortez 5, Canada 3, Erram 2, Golla 2, Bulawan 0, Vosotros 0
Quarterscores: 17-26; 41-42; 60-59; 90-86