PBA: Undermanned Phoenix hands NLEX its first loss

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 25 2021 06:33 PM | Updated as of Dec 25 2021 07:30 PM

Justin Chua takes control of the ball for Phoenix Super LPG. PBA Media Bureau.
Justin Chua takes control of the ball for Phoenix Super LPG. PBA Media Bureau.

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters survived the absence of import Paul Harris to shock the NLEX Road Warriors, 102-93, on Christmas Day at the Araneta Coliseum.

Harris played just two minutes and 38 seconds due to muscle spasms, exiting with two points, a rebound, and an assist with 9:22 to play in the first quarter.

But the Fuel Masters got big games from their local stars, notably Justin Chua who played his best game of the 2021 PBA Governors' Cup as well as skipper Matthew Wright. Without Harris, five Phoenix locals scored in double-digits, as the team shot 45% from the field.

The Fuel Masters snapped a two-game slide to improve to 3-2, and handed the Fuel Masters their first loss after a 4-0 start to the conference. 

"It's not what I said, but what the players said about our last two games. And they just said, we just have to keep on grinding. We know it's not gonna be easy, playing the No. 1 team right now," said Phoenix coach Topex Robinson after the game.

"We know how important this game is for us, so again, guys just didn't give up," he also said.

NLEX got off to a strong start and led 12-6, but the Fuel Masters found their stroke from beyond the arc and pounced on the Road Warriors' turnovers to seize the momentum. Veteran point guard Chris Banchero led the way, as he had five points and five steals in the first period alone to push the Fuel Masters to a 26-18 lead.

Big shots by Don Trollano and Paul Varilla got the Road Warriors back in the game, but NLEX was never able to take control again despite the absence of Harris. The Fuel Masters limited the impact of star import KJ McDaniels, who played his worst game of the conference so far for the Road Warriors.

It was rookie forward Calvin Oftana who helped NLEX get back within striking distance, as he scored five quick points to put them within five, 88-83, midway through the fourth period.

But Phoenix got two free throws from Jason Perkins and an and-1 from Justin Chua to forge ahead by double-digits anew, 93-83.

NLEX last threatened with a minute to go when Oftana nailed a triple to make it a six-point game, 97-91, but RJ Jazul calmly sank a baseline jumper on the other end to keep them at bay. A three-pointer by Matthew Wright with seven seconds left gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 102-91.

Chua led the Fuel Masters with 19 points, making four of his five three-point attempts. Wright had 23 points, nine rebounds, and four assists, though he was also responsible for seven of Phoenix's 22 turnovers. Banchero finished with 17 points, five steals, and four rebounds.

The Fuel Masters forced NLEX into 24 turnovers, scoring 20 points off them. 

Oftana led the Road Warriors with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while McDaniels was held to just 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, along with 10 boards. Before the game, McDaniels was averaging 33.5 points per game on 51% shooting from the field.

"For the past four games, he's really been dominating, and we just figured that if there's one guy that we're gonna gamble on, it's KJ McDaniels," Robinson said of their tactic for the NLEX import. "We might as well focus on him and let the locals beat us."

Phoenix Super LPG returns on January 8 against San Miguel Beer, while the Road Warriors will try to ounce back on January 6 against Rain or Shine. Both games will be at the Big Dome.

The Scores 

Phoenix 102 - Wright 23, Chua 19, Banchero 17, Melecio 12, Perkins 10, Jazul 8, Demusis 4, Manganti 2, Harris 2, Garcia 2, Rios 2, Camacho 1, Muyang 0.

NLEX 93 - Oftana 18, Trollano 16, McDaniels 12, Alas 11, Varilla 10, Rosales 8, Paniamogan 8, Quiñahan 6, Cruz 4, Semerad 0.

Quarters: 26-18, 49-43, 72-67, 102-93.

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