The Aces barely hold on to a 96-95 victory over the North Luzon Expressway Road Warriors (I just had to). That’s an impressive victory considering the following:

1. They were missing their best facilitator and their primary post scorer.

2. They are playing with a new import that’s just getting the hang of things.

3. They were playing with a talented NLEX team seeking their first victory.

The first quarter started with a nice back and forth between the teams. Alaska was running their offense smoothly but unable to finish anything. NLEX, on the other hand, played mostly a one-on-one game, with postups and isolations to create opportunities for everyone. Chris Banchero made a few nice plays to end the quarter to give Alaska a 6 point lead, 22-16.

The second quarter was when the NLEX Road Warriors played their best behind KG Canaleta, who hit two three point shots, and scored 10 points. The Aces were able to keep pace thanks to DJ Covington‘s quick outburst to end the quarter – a dunk, and two completed And-1s.

The Aces eventually pushed their lead to 13 with back-to-back triples from Baguio and Jazul but Thornton would have none of it. He’d single-handedly start a 9-2 run (only broken by Abueva’s basket) to cut the lead to 6. With the momentum they’ve gained, they were able to cut the lead to 2, 75-73.

The fourth quarter would then be a steady back-and-forth between the two teams. The Alaska Aces had their chances in the fourth to push the lead, but NLEX just kept coming back. NLEX eventually had a chance. But Thornton fumbled the ball (of course with a couple of hand checks along the way) to seal Alaska’s first victory of the conference.


Game Notes:

– DJ Covington, although he scored 24 points, still doesn’t look comfortable in a PBA uniform. Part of the reason, I think, is his inability to understand the physicality of the PBA. He had 5 fouls in this game and he has tallied 9 fouls in two games. That wasn’t the case when he was playing for VMI. If he can just keep his fouls down and figure out how to play with the PBA’s physicality (or lack thereof), there might still be a chance.

– On another note, the PBA’s foul-calling is really confusing. They call touch fouls sometimes, they sometimes don’t. They don’t call rough play, sometimes they do. It was why I was both surprised and not-so-surprised when Thornton didn’t get the foul call at the end. Exciminiano was hand-checking him (and by hand-checking, I meant pushing him) and then Abueva chimed in before Thornton eventually fell and lost the ball.

Vic Manuel‘s role will be very important especially in the absence of Thoss. Alaska has some important sets that require a post threat. With Thoss gone and with Covington still not being up to speed, Vic Manuel will play an important role. Let’s all hope that the injury doesn’t last. Alaska’s wounded enough already.

– Cyrus Baguio’s game has slowly declined over the years. Being 34 years of age with a game that relies on athleticism tends to do that. His PER over the past three years has steadily declined and his ability to finish, especially near the rim, has gone down. It was therefore good to see him play a solid game today, scoring 14 points (on 10 shots), hitting one 3-point shot, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and no turnover. HBStats

– Their defense is still not in tip-top shape. That’s a BIG problem. Their offense looked great because they were playing against a not-so-good defensive team. But eventually, their offense is going to become stagnant (even with Casio) and they’ll find themselves in a lot of a sticky situations. In those times, their defense should be the one carrying them through it. Alaska hasn’t shown it (yet). Hopefully, they will or their Cinderella run in the Philippine Cup will just be that – a one time thing.

Chris Banchero has played well so far in the conference. He’s registered a PER of 27.3 buoyed by a strong start in the scoring department (69.1 percent TS). It won’t continue to be this great (especially, considering he’s taken 4 of his 14 shots near the rim (made all of them) and ~70 percent of his shots have come from 10 feet (where he’s made 7 out of 10) — both are not sustainable number. What I do think can be sustained (to some degree) is his 3-point shooting. He’s only taken two so far (and made 1) but his shot is not awful and he didn’t really take a lot of them in the Philippine Cup. He is going to be an important part of Alaska’s survival without Casio. He’s a combo guard that can be a really great defender. He’s been playing well this conference and Alaska better hope he continues this.

Alaska’s next game will be against a GlobalPort team that’s finding their way through relevance, especially after drafting super rookie Stanley Pringle, who’s been nothing short of amazing for GlobalPort.