MANILA, Philippines – The Air21 Express hung on tight to their slim advantage at crunch time to deal Barangay Ginebra San Miguel its fourth loss in 6 games, 97-95, in the PLDT Home TVolution PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday, March 26 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Express relied on their 5 guys in double digits, their hot shooting from long range and a promise by head coach Franz Pumaren in order to come out with the win for a 3-3 slate.
“Coming into this game I assured my wife that we will win because that will be my birthday gift,” Pumaren shared. “That’s the only wish she asked me so I was pressured to win this game.”
Pumaren acknowledged how they survived Ginebra’s furious rally during the fourth as the Gin Kings dropped 25 points on the Express.
“It’s a good thing we were able to regroup when they made a run. Hopefully this will be a good takeoff point for the next games.”
After struggling for much of the first 3 quarters – with Air21 leading by as much as 14, 76-62, near the end of the third on a Mark Borboran basket – Ginebra went all-Filipino in the fourth and rallied to cut the deficit down to 80-78 after Josh Urbiztondo drained a trey for his first 3 points with 10:13 to play.
Urbiztondo served as a spark for Ginebra during the payoff period, providing hustle on defense. Japeth Aguilar came alive as well in the fourth for the Gin Kings, scoring 11 of his 15 points.
But Air21 kept pushing back Ginebra each time they came knocking and never let them even to within a point.
Import Wesley Witherspoon hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 6:14 left to push Air21’s lead back up to 89-84. The same happened for him again with two freebies with 4:20 on the clock, 92-86. He finished with 25 points and 10 boards.
Ginebra kept muffing what would have been easy baskets as the rock went in and out for lay-ins and they piled up on turnovers during crucial possessions down the stretch.
Jayjay Helterbrand kept the flame alive for Ginebra as he fired a left corner triple to cut the deficit to 96-93 with 1:10 remaining.
With 22.7 ticks left, Urbiztondo did what he was doing best all quarter long as he helped Chris Ellis pressure Witherspoon near the halfcourt line and sideline to force the turnover. That resulted to a quick bucket from Billy Mamaril off the timeout, making it a one-point affair at 96-95.
Joseph Yeo was then fouled but missed both his free throws amid the noise of the crowd.
Eventually, after sitting out the entire payoff period, Ginebra import Leon Rodgers was inserted back into the game for the final play following a split from the line by Witherspoon that left Ginebra a 97-95 deficit to deal with.
And with 4.8 seconds remaining, Rodgers drove to the hoop and tried for a shot that bounced in and out of the rim, as head coach Ato Agustin buried his head in his hands knowing his team is now at 2-4.
“It’s nice beating a star-studded team like Ginebra,” Pumaren admitted. “It’s more of a collective effort on our part. I don’t think there’s any one superstar in our batch right now. Guys are willing to work hard.”
Yeo dealt Ginebra plenty of damage in the first quarter alone, exploding with 14 points right away.
But Ginebra found a way to silence him in the second half, limiting him to just 4 points for the entire second half. He finished with 18 points and 9 assists.
Air21 led 57-48 at the half after Witherspoon drained a desperation triple at the buzzer, to the joy of Yeo commending their import and to the dismay of LA Tenorio (9 points) who was shaking his head going into the locker rooms.
Air21 shot 11-of-27 from rainbow country and registered more assists than their opponents, 20-17, as Mark Cardona carved out 15 points. Borboran and Aldrech Ramos each had 10 points.
For Ginebra, Rodgers finished with 18 points and 4 rebounds as Greg Slaughter added 12 of his own. Ellis and Helterbrand had 10 apiece.
Air21 97: Witherspoon 25, Yeo 18, Cardona 15, Borboran 10, Ramos 10, Taulava 9, Villanueva 6, Burtscher 2, Atkins 2, Camson 0.
Ginebra 95: Rodgers 18, Aguilar 15, Slaughter 12, Ellis 10, Helterbrand 10, Tenorio 9, Baracael 6, Reyes 6, Mamaril 4, Urbiztondo 3, Caguioa 2.
Quarter scores: 27-25, 57-48, 80-70, 97-95.
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