The NLEX Road Warriors sputtered late but did just enough to fend off Phoenix, 87-85, in the PBA Commissioner's Cup on Friday at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Already ousted in the mid-season conference, the Road Warriors played as though they were still vying for a playoff spot as they zoomed to a 21-9 start.
Olu Ashaolu, who will also reinforce NLEX in the Governors' Cup, finished with 17 points and the same number of rebounds to go with five assists and two steals. Kenneth Ighalo added 14 markers.
"It's a good thing we won our last game," said NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao.
TheRoad Warriors led 54-34 in the penultimate quarter. But an all-Filipino Fuel Masters refused to just roll over and die and trimmed the gap to four, 54-58.
Import Richard Howell, who was struggling with a knee injury, returned to the floor in the fourth period for the Fuel Masters, who mustered every ounce of energy left to come to within one in the waning seconds.
Ashaolu botched a pair of free throws, but Jericho Cruz secured the rebound then split his shots for the final score.
The victory dimmed Phoenix's playoff chances as the Fuel Masters slipped to a 4-7 win-loss record. They will have to wait for the results of the remaining games to determine whether they will gain at least a playoff for a quarterfinal berth.
RJ Jazul, who buried a triple with 6.2 seconds left to move Phoenix to within a whisker, paced the Fuel Masters with 20 points. Wright added 16 points.
NLEX 87 - Ashaolu 17, Ighalo 14, Quinahan 9, Paniamogan 9, Erram 7, Cruz 6, Lao 5, Tiongson 5, Fonacier 5, Taulava 4, Soyud 4, Varilla 2, Baguio 0, Galanza 0.
Phoenix 85 - Jazul 20, Wright 16, Mallari 13, Howell 11, Intal 6, Marcelo 6, Perkins 2, Napoles 0, Wilson 0, Guevarra 0, Gamboa 0.
Quarterscores: 21-11, 45-32, 65-54, 87-85.
-Howell was not playing at full strength. He hurt his right knee in the third quarter of the loss against San Miguel.
-Guiao was ejected with under a minute left for using profane language twice.