Cold offensively the entire night, Matthew Wright found himself holding the perfect chance to bail Phoenix out and did so with flair.
With the Fuel Masters locked in a tooth-and-nail battle, the 6-foot-3 guard completed a wild three-point play with 29.3 ticks left on Sunday night to key a 101-98 victory over a hard-fighting NorthPort crew for the last ticket to the PBA Governors’ Cup quarterfinals at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City.
And after that gut-wrenching victory comes the harder part for the Fuel Masters.
The win made Phoenix the No. 8 seed, and while they sent off the Batang Pier, the Fuel Masters would now need to survive two knockout matches with No. 1 Magnolia to advance to the Final Four.
“Wow, again, we’re just happy to be here,” an elated Topex Robinson said after the thrilling win, which was also made possible by second-string veteran guard RR Garcia. “Obviously, we respect Magnolia a lot. But we have to just focus what we have control of.
“We’re just going to go from here and enjoy the moment. They’re the heavy favorites coming into the playoffs.”
It was a sorry loss for the Batang Pier, who took a 99-98 lead after an Arwind Santos triple that beat the shot clock only for the squad to flub several chances after that, the last being a Jerrick Balanza triple that was short and off the mark at the buzzer.
“That NorthPort team is really a contender. Hats off to coach Pido [Jarencio] and the rest of the guys, they really gave us a run for our money,” Robinson said in paying respect for the conquered. “We were struggling the whole game and we just made a lot of stops in the fourth quarter.”
Those stops were centered mostly on NorthPort import Jamel Artis, who was held scoreless by the Phoenix defense in the fourth period. He even threw up a no-chance triple after that Wright three-point play that didn’t have a chance of going in.
That go-ahead layup that sent Wright sprawled chest first onto the floor was just the second field goal for the national team gunslinger in more than 40 minutes of action. He finished with just 11 points built around a 7-for-7 clip from the line, which was enough for the Fuel Masters to go past the elimination round.
“We cannot depend on Matt [Wright] alone,” Garcia said in Filipino. “That’s why it’s important for everyone to step up.”
Du’Vaughn Maxwell, who came in as a late import replacement for Dominique Sutton, had 31 points, 13 rebounds and five assists for Phoenix, which 19 points from Garcia.
Garcia, who came into the rubber match averaging less than four points a game, hit the last free throw which forced the Batang Pier to go for a three-point shot in their last possession.
The playoffs starts on Wednesday with No. 3 TNT, the reigning Philippine Cup champion, taking on No. 6 and defending champion Barangay Ginebra. INQ
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