MANILA – The NLEX Road Warriors squeaked past Cebuana Lhuiller, 62-61, to clinch a berth in the PBA D-League Foundation Cup Finals Tuesday at the Ynares Arena in Pasig City.
The NLEX offense sputtered in the third quarter as they failed to score in the first five minutes of the frame and went down by as much as 10 points, 34-44.
"We played flat in the third quarter. We also committed a lot of miscues, and got into a lot of mismatches," NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez said in a report on the league website.
"I thought I coached poorly today," he admitted. "This game is a learning experience for us. I’m just glad we won."
Big baskets by Jake Pascual, Ronald Pascual and Art dela Cruz Jr. allowed NLEX to climb back into the contest, and Kevin Alas drilled a triple with less than two minutes to go to tie the game at 60-all.
Ola Adeogun then hit two pressure-packed free throws to put the Road Warriors ahead for good.
Cebuana still had a chance to win the game, but Alvin Padilla misfired on a potential game-winning floater.
NLEX arranged a finals rematch with defending champions Blackwater Sports, which defeated Jumbo Plastic, 91-86, in their own semi-final game on Tuesday.
Like NLEX, Blackwater also found itself down by double-digits in the third period but rallied thanks to Gilbert Bulawan and Jericho Cruz.
"They caught us by surprise with their physical game," Blackwater sports Leo Isaac said. "We had a tough time adjusting, but I thought our experience made the difference with the game on the line."
Jumbo Plastic had led 61-49 in the third quarter, but Blackwater made a run when Giants center Jason Ballesteros went to the bench. By the end of the frame, the defending champions had overhauled the deficit and led, 65-61, entering the final frame.
"We just gave the game a new look," said Isaac. "We shifted our defense from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, and I thought our zone trapping took away their focus and forced them to shoot a lot of hurried threes."
Jerick Canada led Jumbo Plastic’s final charge of the game, a 16-2 run that allowed them to take an 83-82 lead with 2:39 to go. But Cruz's two free throws allowed Blackwater to regain the lead for good.
NLEX and Blackwater begin their best-of-five finals series on Friday at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
NLEX vs Cebuana
NLEX 62 - Adeogun 11, R. Pascual 11, Lanete 11, J. Pascual 8, Dela Cruz 7, Alas 7, Long 4, Dela Rosa 3, Amer 0, Raymundo 0, K. Pascual 0, Koga 0, Ganuelas 0
Cebuana Lhuillier 61 - Gamalinda 20, Arellano 15, Sarangay 6, Padilla 5, G. Banal 5, J. Banal 4, Acibar 2, Leynes 2, Ilad 2, Paredes 0, Mangahas 0, Zamar 0
Quarters: 21-11; 34-33; 47-50; 62-61
Blackwater vs Jumbo Plastic
Blackwater Sports 91 – Bulawan 22, M. Cruz 14, Cervantes 13, Pinto 9, J, Cruz 9, Llagas 6, Ferrer 6, Manguera 3, Ciriacruz 3, Mangahas 2, Trollano 2, Austria 2.
Jumbo Plastic 86 – Viernes 19, Canada 18, Villamor 3, Tan 11, Ballesteros 8, Magat 6, Colina 5, Dehesa 2, Custodio 2, Parala 2, Petillos 0, Chiu 0.
Quarters: 24-23; 43-45, 65-61; 91-86