MANILA, Philippines – There is no aura of satisfaction in Air21’s dugout even after their amazing turnaround against San Mig Coffee in their semifinals opener Tuesday night. There wasn’t any rampant celebration; the squad immediately packed for home, armed with the mentality that they are thrice to beat, and they cannot lose again.
“We can never be comfortable. 1-0 means nothing. We will come with a mentality that we can never lose in this series. We will play with heart and aggressiveness,” said defensive ace Sean Anthony, who, surprisingly, has also emerged as one of Air21’s offensive weapons, averaging 24 points on 87% shooting from downtown in the team’s playoff games.
Head coach Franz Pumaren and the rest of the Air21 Express are two wins away from the finals after the hard-fought battle.
If there is something the crew can use for their road to the grand finale, it would be their own brand of “never say die” attitude.
“We played with a lot of energy. We feel that we have that never say die attitude Ginebra needs to have,” exclaimed 41-year-old Asi Taulava after conquering San Mig Coffee in Game One.
“We won’t give up even if we are down 10. We keep fighting and for some reason in the last three games it helped us down the stretch.”
Down 66-74 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Express didn’t back down and continued fighting, exerting energy and hustle on the defensive end that turned into 37 fourth quarter points.
This immense effort Air21 showed enabled them to pull away.
Sean Anthony once again topscored for the Express, firing 29 points on 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc, while Asi Taulava added 14 points and 9 rebounds. He also stopped James Mays for most of the match inside, even before the Mixers could stage a late run in the end.
Wesley Witherspoon connected on big baskets for 25 points, Joseph Yeo provided 11 points and 6 assists, while Aldrech Ramos added 9 markers.
Air21 had 13 steals, 12 three-point baskets, forced 20 turnovers and limited the Mixers to just 39 rebounds.
It was the first-ever semifinals appearance for the three-year franchise, but everyone played playoff-level, grind-out basketball against a championship-caliber squad.
With the group showing nerves of steel, it is hard to imagine the Express were once the seventh-seeded group who were minutes away from elimination in their Game 2 quarterfinals rubber match against San Miguel Beer.
The Beermen were 2 minutes and 50 seconds away from the semifinals with a comfortable 79-70 cushion, before Air21 rallied for a10-3 run eventually forcing the tide to turn in their favor.
“This is our advantage right now. Everyone is hustling. We don’t care who is in front of us. We will keep attacking. There is no price for effort and hustle.”
Effort and hustle kept Air21 undefeated in the playoffs. If they can keep the intensity up, they might even end up with the Commissioner’s Cup trophy. – Rappler.com