A wild finishing sequence that ended with Calvin Abueva scoring the game-winning putback with 4.1 seconds remaining gave the Phoenix Fuel Masters a 93-92 overtime victory against the Meralco Bolts Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Meralco had the chance to steal the match but had a hard time finding an open man with Chris Newsome forced to heave a half-court desperation shot.
Abueva, while he did well defending and rebounding, struggled through most of the game to score. "To be honest, I was already getting frustrated with his performance," Phoenix coach Louie Alas said. "The turnovers and even the fouls I can accept because that's really a part of Calvin's game. I just asked him to stop shooting from the outside because I felt that if he attacked, no one could stop him."
Even Abueva's patented one-handers were not falling and he connected on just five of 10 free throw attempts. He was also 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
Alas limited Abueva's minutes in the second half of the game until he was forced to send Abueva in after Jason Perkins fouled out late in regulation.
"One of my assistant coaches told me to give him a chance and be patient with him," Alas said. "He told me 'Who knows coach, he can even win us the game?'"
This was exactly what happened as Abueva scored the first basket of the overtime period. And then with the game on the line, Abueva picked up an offensive rebound off a Justin Chua miss to score the decisive go-ahead put-back.
"I just focused on doing what I needed to do to help the team," said Abueva. "I helped out in rebounding and on defense but my shots were not falling. In the overtime period, I just played with more confidence."
Abueva finished with nine points and 13 rebounds, nine on the offensive glass. He was 2 of 13 from the field, with both his makes coming in the overtime period.
"That's why we have Calvin on the team because he can do things like that," Alas said. "He can hurt you at some points in the game because of his eagerness to help out but one thing you can always expect from him is to fight until the end."
This was the type of game Phoenix lost last season. It was also an overtime loss to the Bolts that eliminated the second-seeded Fuel Masters from the 2018 Governors' Cup.
"Our campaign could have been much different if we had the poise to close out games strong, so I'm very happy with the result," Alas said. "Adding a veteran like Alex Mallari who has championship experience and also maybe learning from the mistakes we made before helped us become a better team."
Justin Chua paced Phoenix with a career-high 24 points on top of six rebounds while turning the ball over only once in 29 minutes of play. Matthew Wright added 18 points and 11 rebounds. He also had five assists, two steals, and a block. Jason Perkins and Alex Mallari scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Abueva had nine points, including the game-winning basket, and 13 rebounds. The Fuel Masters could have won the game in regulation, but a pair attempts from 3-point range by Wright rimmed out. He atoned for that in the extra period, following up an airball by Mallari to give the team a 91-89 lead with 20.3 seconds remaining.
Newsome retaliated with a triple in the ensuing play before Abueva sealed the win for the Fuel Masters.
Nico Salva paced Meralco with 22 points, six rebounds, and a steal. Newsome chipped in 20 points to go with five rebounds and three assists.
Baser Amer and Ranidel de Ocampo had 10 points apiece.
Phoenix 93 - Chua 24, Wright 18, Perkins 13, Mallari 11, Abueva 9, Intal 8, Marcelo 6, Kramer 2, Jazul 2, Revilla 0, Mendoza 0, Gamboa 0, Dennison 0.
Meralco 92 - Salva 22, Newsome 20, Amer 10, De Ocampo 10, Hugnatan 9, Hodge 8, Faundo 4, Pinto 3, Dillinger 2, Tolomia 2, Quinto 2, Jackson 0, Jamito 0, Canaleta 0, Car 0.
Quarterscores: 23-9, 41-34, 64-60, 83-83, 93-92.
Pinto, who was traded by Phoenix to Meralco a few days before the opening of the 44th season of the PBA, was still groping for form. He finished with three points, four rebounds, and two assists in 16 minutes.
Phoenix outscored Meralco in the paint, 48-28.
Trevis Jackson, Bong Quinto, Ron Dennison made their PBA debut. Jorey Napoles, Phoenix's rookie, didn't see action.
Meralco vs. Blackwater on January 19 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
Phoenix vs. TNT on January 19 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.