AN undermanned Phoenix showed grace under pressure to survive NorthPort’s three-point shooting spree in the stretch, 97-87, and bolster its playoff bid in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Fuel Masters, who played minus four players on injuries, built an 81-66 lead to cushion the impact of the Batang Pier’s stunning three-point splurge anchored on Mo Tautuaa, Sean Anthony, Robert Bolick and Kevin Ferrer.
Tautuaa made back-to-back triples, Anthony followed suit with his own, before Bolick and Ferrer knocked in their own in a 15-3 explosion which put NorthPort threateningly close at 84-81, with 2:38 remaining.
But thanks to Alex Mallari, Jayson Perkins, and Matthew Wright, the Fuel Masters saved their night to clinch their third win in seven outings.
Mallari scored on a twinner while Perkins added a basket for an 88-81 lead for Phoenix, which missed Mike Gamboa, L.A. Revilla, Jaypee Mendoza and Rey Guevarra due to injuries.
Their absence hardly tolled for Phoenix which leaned on Wright who topscored with 28 points. Import Richard Howell added 18 points, RJ Jazul chipped in 17, Mallari 11 and Perkins 12.
The Batang Pier tumbled to their first loss after a four-game winning streak and fell to second place at 7-2.
NorthPort stayed within striking distance at 90-87 on another triple by Ferrer with 1:14 left, before the Fuel Masters uncorked a 7-0 win-up capped by Wright’s triple for what stood in the final tally.
Meanwhile, Meralco is set to parade its new import in international journeyman Delroy James who will be the team’s reinforcement in its last four outings in the elimination round.
The Bolts have lost their last three outings, including against sister team NLEX which defeated them last June 19, 100-91. The three-game slump put the Bolts’ playoff bid in great danger.
The 32-year-old James will suit up for the Bolts on Saturday for their crucial game against Magnolia in Zamboanga City.
The stocky 6-foot-8 James spent his collegiate years with Rhode Island before suiting up for the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA G-League. The Guyana-born forward has also been an international journeyman, having played in Israel, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Greece and Lebanon.
James will replace Gani Lawal, who continues to deal with a hamstring injury.
James will be the third import Meralco has flown to the country after Lawal's original replacement Jimmie Taylor failed to impress in his lone game against TNT.
Phoenix (97) - Wright 28, Howell 18, Jazul 17, Pwrkins 12, Mallari 11, Chua 6, Intal 3, Napoles 2, Kramer 0, Marcelo 0, Wilson 0, Dennison 0.
NorthPort (87) - Tautuaa 19, Ferrer 18, Anthony 16, Ibeh 12, Bolick 11, Taha 6, Lanete 3, Cruz 2, Mercado 0, Arana 0.
Quarterscores: 19-28, 39-43, 64-51, 97-87.