PHOENIX Pulse ripped a page out of NorthPort's recent playbook and in the process threw a monkey wrench at the oddsmakers.
With Matthew Wright showing the way, the 11-man Fuel Masters pulled off a 97-87 win over the erstwhile streaking Batang Pier Wednesday in the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Wright scattered 14 of his gamehigh 28 points in the final canto, with the first six stoking Phoenix's drive to a 15-point lead and the rest helping serve as buffer for NorthPort's gritty fightback inside the final six minutes.
The Batang Pier, who only two games back won despite playing with only eight men, did whittle the deficit to just three points twice, but Wright and the rest of the Fuel Masters had enough left in the tank to hold on and eventually notch their third win in seven games.
Richard Howell added 18 points and, more important for Phoenix coach Louie Alas, hauled down 15 rebounds that led the team's 56-46 advantage off the boards
"We beat them enough sa rebounding battle na isa sa mga gusto naming ipanalo," said Alas. "When we looked at the stats ng NorthPort kasi, one of their biggest strengths is rebounding. Ang dami nilang second chance points. So extra 10 possessions na iyan (for us)."
Also making Alas prouder is the fact RJ Jazul chipped in 17 points and Alex Mallari 11 markers that went well with Jason Perkins adding 12 markers and atoning for the absence of the injured LA Revilla, Michael Gamboa, Jaypee Mendoza and Rey Guevarra.
To make up for the loss of playmaker Revilla (fractured foot) for the rest of the conference, Alas bared he now plans on acquiring another point guard.
"Kasi natitira kong point guards hindi point guards. Parehong combo, RJ and Mallari," explained Alas. "We're looking for another point guard, from free agency."
The loss not only cut short NorthPort's winning run at four but also dropped it to a 7-2 slot.
Mo Tautuaa had 19 points, Kevin Ferrer 18 and Sean Anthony 16 to lead the Batang Pier.
Prince Ibeh had 12 points and 10 rebounds, but suffered some tightness in his left hamstring since the third quarter and eventually fouled out with still 3:18 left in the game.
That left a very big hole in the middle that the NorthPort locals could not amply plug and which Phoenix fully exploited.
Without its chief defensive cog, NorthPort turned to offense as Tautuua, Anthony, Ferrer and Robert Bolick conspired for five straight triples that whittled the deficit to 81-84. Ferrer's second trey of the quarter also kept the Batang Pier within 87-90, still 1:14 left.
But Phoenix's poise rose to the occasion as Wright calmly sank two charities and, following a Howell block on the driving Robert Bolick, Jazul canned two freebies of his own to all but seal the deal 94-87.
NorthPort actually got off to a fast start behind Ibeh and Ferrer, racing to a 26-16 lead before its shooting woes started rearing its ugly head whie Jazul and Wright led Phoenix into a 43-39 edge at the half.
The Fuel Masters hit a tough patch of their own when they missed their first seven tries in the third period, while Bolick strung up seven points to give the lead back to the Batang Pier.
JC Intal, wearing goggles to protect an eye injury, broke the field ice for Phoenix with a perimeter jumper and that sparked the team to a 5-for-9 shooting the rest of the quarter for a 64-61 lead going to the final frame.