Quarterfinals Chase is On: Key Takeaways from SMB-Blackwater, NLEX-Meralco

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NLEX Road Warriors (4-4) strengthened their bid for a quarterfinals spot while Blackwater Elite (3-5) kept their hopes alive after bagging wins in their Friday (February 9) games at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Early Rookie of the Year frontrunner Kiefer Ravena hit a difficult turnaround jumper in the closing seconds to complete the Road Warriors’ 87-85 comeback victory over the Meralco Bolts.

A Ravena three-pointer in the final 43 seconds followed by a pair of JR Quiñahan freebies put NLEX ahead, 85-82, after trailing by as much as 18 points earlier in the game. However, Meralco’s Chris Newsome pulled off a three-point play that set up the stage for the electrifying finish.

Meanwhile, Elite took down the defending champions, San Miguel Beer, behind Mike DiGregorio who tallied a season-high 26 points, five assists and three rebounds.

The victory helped Blackwater snap their four-game losing skid, while the Beermen failed to have a firm grip on the top post and are now tied with the Magnolia Hotshots and Alaska Aces with a 6-2 record.

Here are the key takeaways from the latest PBA games.

NLEX Road Warriors 87-85 Meralco Bolts

Kiefer for ROY?

The Phenom was the hero of the game, and that is not just because of his game-winner. The 24-year-old guard was brilliant throughout and displayed composure unlike any other rookie. He finished with 21 points on 7-12 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists and only one turnover.

Slow start, strong finish

NLEX fell to a 26-8 hole in the opening frame, but a big second quarter allowed them to keep the match tight in the second half. Meralco seemed to have found their momentum midway through the final quarter as they built a 10-point lead with less than five minutes to play; nonetheless, the Road Warriors didn’t falter and exploded to an 11-0 run en route to victory.

Too many freebies from Meralco

In tight games like this one, trips to the charity stripe can be pivotal. And that proved to be the case for NLEX as Meralco allowed them to have 24 tries from the free throw line (of which they made 20). In comparison, the Bolts made a measly nine freebies out of 12.


San Miguel Beer 96-106 Blackwater Elite

DiGregorio came up clutch

DiGregorio led the scoring for the Elite, but his role in the upset victory was far bigger than what the stat sheet shows. In the absence of Mac Belo, the third-year guard hit the crucial baskets and even scored the team’s last eight points as they created a comfortable lead to stave off a comeback bid by the Beermen.

June Mar Fajardo also needs help

Even a player in the caliber of June Mar Fajardo can have off nights. The four-time MVP is usually an unstoppable force, but Elite limited him to just 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting—less than half of his average this season.

After this surprising defeat, SMB surely can’t wait for Alex Cabagnot and Gabby Espinas to come back.

The threes matter

In their past two losses prior to this game, Blackwater made only a combined 12 three-pointers (out of 51 attempts). This time, however, they clicked from beyond the arc and dominated SMB with 13 treys on 50 percent shooting. The shorthanded Beermen, meanwhile, struggled mightily and converted just 28 percent from deep.