NLEX Road Warriors stayed true to their name as they pulled away late against a strong TNT Ka Tropa team in what can be considered a rare road game in the PBA.
It was a sort of homecoming for Jayson Castro, who was born in a municipality near Angeles City, the lahar-ravaged Bacolor City, and Coach Yeng Guiao. As a fellow Kapampangan, it was great seeing both of them speaking our native language at the start of the game, giving fans the appreciation they deserved.
Jayson Castro, who got a standing ovation coming off the bench midway through the 1st, did not disappoint in his homecoming game. The Road Warriors held a 11-8 lead when he checked in but by the end of the 1st, TNT had seized the momentum and the lead, 24-26, thanks to some stellar play from Castro, who created easy opportunities for his teammates en route to 3 assists.
TNT’s lead ballooned to 8 early in the 2nd, but Yeng Guiao’s NLEX played its way back into the game behind their defense, in what would be a nip-and-tuck 2nd quarter. After scoring 35 points in the first 16 minutes of the game, TNT was held to 13 points in the next 8, shooting 31.3 percent, going 2 of 6 from line and turning the ball over 4 times. After 1 half, the game was knotted up at 52 points.
The first 3 minutes of the 2nd half was tightly contested, with each team trading big plays that would knot the game up 3 times in that span. But NLEX pulled away behind the aggressive play of Carlo Lastimosa. Lastimosa would score 2 baskets — one on a tough, fading right floater just inside the free throw line — and facilitate on 2 baskets, freeing up Villanueva for an easy basket inside, and then sucking the defense in before Villanueva made the easy pass to Khobuntin in the corner. NLEX would hold that lead until Lastimosa was given a breather late in the 3rd. That was when TNT made their final stand, even briefly taking the lead behind a Kelly Williams free throw, 80-81. But veteran Chico Lanete created 2 easy baskets for his team to help NLEX regain the lead, 85-81, at the end of the 3rd.
TNT’s veteran lineup would show its strength in the 4th as they looked poised to take control of the game. Behind the steady leadership of Jayson Castro, TNT took a 1 point lead, 93-94, after a typical, secondary transition attack from Castro (a basket and a free throw). After a minor scuffle (Coach Yeng Guiao entering the court) and a pretty hilarious sequence — one that saw only 4 TNT players on the court — earned technical free throws for each squad, Lastimosa, who would earn Best Player awards behind his efficient 22 points (71.3 TS), would score or assist on 9 of NLEX’s next 13 points to pull away, finally, from the feisty TNT squad.
Final Score: 110-98.