Alaska had to weather a late Phoenix explosion in the final two minutes to take a 105-102 win and roll to its third straight win in the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With the Aces comfortably ahead, 103-90, at the 2:46 mark in the final frame, Phoenix rattled off 12 straight points -- the last of which was a tough Matthew Wright trey on the right wing off the inbound -- to stay alive and pull within one with 12.6 seconds left.
JVee Casio nailed two free throws in the ensuing possession off a timeout to give his side the three-point cushion, then Alaska was able to do just enough on defense to force a Jason Perkins corner airball in the final nine seconds to seal the win.
Five players, led by Vic Manuel's 20 points, scored in double figures for the Aces, who improved to 4-6 and forced a three-way tie with the Columbian Dyip and the NorthPort Batang Pier at seventh in the standings. Jeron Teng added 17 points and 8 rebounds, while Franko House threw in a 15-point, 18-rebound double-double.
"I think this is one of those games where me, being a young coach, you learn the most," Aces coach Jeff Cariaso said after the game. "This is not just a learning lesson for me but also for the team on how to, again, be stronger and be better down the stretch and understand a little bit better what we need to do when it's close like that."
Buoyed by some hot shooting (70 percent) paired with stingy work on the other end in the first quarter, the Aces jumped to a 21-4 start and forced Phoenix to miss 13 of its first 20 shots.
Phoenix roared back in the game by exploding to a 19-1 start in the second quarter to take a 53-49 lead at the half. During that stretch, the Fuel Masters held their foes to just 6-for-24 shooting while draining four threes in a 34-point second quarter.
Manuel and Kevin Racal went to work after the break, where they scored 17 of the Aces' 31 points to put Alaska back in the driver's seat. A 9-0 run to turn a 72-69 deficit to a 78-72 cushion would help Alaska steal the lead for good, but it still had some finishing left in the final frame, where the Fuel Masters looked to pull the rug from underneath them down the stretch.
"I think we're better, we're a lot better. I don't want to say we're peaking yet because it means we're close to being at our best. I don't think with the adjustments we have to make, new players, some former players understanding their roles a little better. There's still adjustments there. What's nice is everyone's on the same page and what they wanna do is really just win," said Cariaso.
Alaska has a chance to barge into the playoffs after a nightmare start, but it will have to endure a tough test presented by the top-seeded NLEX Road Warriors (8-2) in order to do so.
"I think how we started, we'd be happy with this opportunity. And we really are," Cariaso admitted. "We had a rocky start, struggled really, really bad, but I think the second half of this schedule we've been a lot better. Again, only 'cause we've had more time to prepare. That really is a big help.
"We're hoping that we come on and be better because if we played the way we did tonight against NLEX, we might not have a chance. They're playing really well. They're playing together, they're happy and enjoying. We have to combat that with our style and us also enjoying and us also playing hard. Next Wednesday will be a good game. Good test for us."
Phoenix slipped to 2-8 with their fourth straight loss and are now eliminated from the playoff race. Wright anchored the team's offense with 25 points, but he also handed out 10 dimes and grabbed four boards. Alonzo Gee added 23 points and six boards, while Perkins and Justin Chua tossed in 16 and 14 each.
"Super, super [disappointed]. But you have to think also that a lot happened. Those things are out of my control. We started the second conference with Rob Dozier. We came from being a no. 1 seed, our expectation was to stay in the upper bracket. But he got injured. Then Calvin got suspended," coach Louie Alas "I hope this doesn't happen anymore in the (2020) All-Filipino conference."
Alaska (105) -- Manuel 20, Teng 17, House 15, Ahanmisi 12, Racal 9, Enciso 9, Casio 9, Tratter 7, Herndon 3, Brondial 2, Thoss 0, Ayaay 0.
Phoenix (102) -- Wright 25, Gee 23, Perkins 18, Chua 16, Mallari 5, Potts 4, Napoles 3, Gamboa 2, Intal 2, Jazul 2, Kramer 2.
Quarters: 32-19, 49-53, 80-76, 105-102.
- Phoenix has yet to tally a win with Gee in the fold after losing their third game with him as the team's import.
- Alaska won the boards decisively, 52-38, and had more fast-break points (18-4) compared to the Fuel Masters.
- Jeron Teng will undergo MRI testing on a right knee injury he sustained late in the game Wednesday, although he and team doctor Facundo Sun downplayed concerns and said that "it's nothing serious."
- Phoenix vs. Blackwater on Nov. 15 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum
- Alaska vs. NLEX on Nov. 12 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo