(UPDATED) Rookie Calvin Oftana converted the go-ahead layup with six seconds left, and the NLEX Road Warriors stayed alive in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup after slipping past the Meralco Bolts, 81-80, in their quarterfinal game on Wednesday.
The seventh-seeded Road Warriors need to win twice against the No. 2 Bolts in order to punch their tickets to the semifinals. They are halfway there after a thrilling win at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Oftana, the third overall pick in the PBA Rookie Draft last March, soared past Meralco's Bong Quinto for the layup that pegged the final score with 6.1 seconds left, as Jericho Cruz fired the perfect inbound pass to the forward.
The Bolts were out of timeouts, and could only muster a long-range heave by Cliff Hodge that was partially blocked by NLEX veteran JR Quiñahan.
"It was intended for him. It went exactly as we planned it," NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said of their final play.
"Of course, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't happen for you. But we're really lucky that it happened for us this time," he added.
Oftana finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Tony Semerad led the way for NLEX with 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Don Trollano had 12 points and eight rebounds, and Jericho Cruz added 10 points.
With the result, the Road Warriors have forced a do-or-die game for a semifinal berth on Friday, still at the Pampanga venue where the PBA is holding its "semi bubble."
NLEX held a slim lead for most of the fourth quarter, and they were still ahead 77-73 with two-and-a-half minutes to go off a Cruz layup. But a Mac Belo three-point play touched off a 7-2 Meralco run, culminating in a Reynel Hugnatan layup with 55 seconds to go after a defensive breakdown by the Road Warriors.
The Bolts, now ahead 80-79, looked headed for the semis after they forced Oftana into a missed three-pointer. Belo had a chance to ice their win on the other end but missed a three-pointer of his own, only for Bong Quinto to come up with the offensive rebound.
Off a Meralco timeout, Quiñahan committed a duty foul on Belo with 7.4 seconds left. A 73% free throw shooter in the conference, Belo shockingly missed both charities, paving the way for Oftana to snatch the win for NLEX on the other end.
"We're just trying to survive every game. Meralco is a really strong team," said Guiao. "The last time we played them, they shot 62% from the 3-point line, and that's really a fantastic clip."
"So we said, they can't shoot that way all throughout. So if we're able to stay close, just like we did today, we're able to stay close, maye we have a chance in the endgame, which is exactly what happened," he added.
Meralco beat NLEX, 104-101, when they played in the elimination round. In that game, the Bolts made 13 of their 21 attempts from beyond the arc.
This time around, they were only 6-of-23 from three-point range.
Allein Maliksi led Meralco with 16 points, while Belo finished with 12 markers. Quinto and Hugnatan each scored 11 points in a losing effort.
The scores :
NLEX 81 – Semerad 23, Trollano 12, Oftana 10, Cruz 10, Alas 9, Miranda 5, Soyud 4, Quinahan 4, Paniamogan 2, Ighalo 0
MERALCO 80 – Maliksi 16, Belo 12, Quinto 11, Hugnatan 11, Caram 9, Newsome 7, Almazan 6, Hodge 6, Pasaol 2, Baclao 0, Pinto 0
Quarters : 20-26, 44-42, 63-64, 81-80.