San Mig subdues Air21’s winning run to tie semis series

Jane Bracher
This time the giants won, as San Mig Coffee evened their series with Air21 on Thursday night

Marc Pingris of San Mig Coffee puts up a one-handed shot against Air21's Wesley Witherspoon and Asi Taulava. Photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

MANILA, Philippines – This time, there was no locker room celebration in the middle of the semis. This time, the fairy tale run hit a speed bump. This time, the giants won. 

The San Mig Super Coffee Mixers put a stop to the thrilling run of the Air21 Express in the playoffs with an 82-75 rout to even their best-of-5 semifinals series at 1-1 in the 2014 PLDT Home TVolution PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Thursday, May 1 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. 

This game meant two things for the Mixers. First, it meant returning to their roots and their greatest strength: defense. 

“I just felt we got back to our identity tonight,” remarked SMC head coach Tim Cone. 

“First and foremost we’re a defensive team. We gave up 100 points in the first game and that just wasn’t our character.”

In Game 1 of the series, the Mixers, indeed, allowed Air21 103 points, including a 37-point outburst that did them in for the final period. 

But in this game, San Mig managed to shackle the Express to just 21 points and below for every quarter. Their defense was on full display most especially in the second canto as Air21 could only muster 14 points. At which point the Mixers started pulling away and notched 16-point and 18-point bubbles (62-45 and 66-48) in the third frame, including a 70-55 advantage heading into the fourth, that Air21 couldn’t pop. 

“Really good defensive game on our part. We took care of the ball better,” Cone said. 

Second, this game meant dealing Air21’s spirits a prick that could spell the difference between them advancing and continuing on with their inspiring run, or retreating and turning that prick into a much deeper wound. 

“One game doesn’t make momentum. I’m a big believer of that,” Cone said, noting the 3-game win streak that the 7th seed Air21 was able to string together as they went through the second seed twice-to-beat San Miguel Beermen in the quarters, and snatched a Game 1 semis victory over Cone and his team. 

“Maybe after two or 3 in a row you start to develop momentum. Right now all we did was stop their momentum.” 

“They’re a confident team at this point and they believe in themselves and they’re not gonna back down from a lead,” Cone commended the relentless Express. 

“Teams who believe in themselves don’t worry about falling behind. They stay with it and keep going and Air21 did a good job at that tonight.”

Despite the final score, however, no way was Game 2 easy pickings for the Mixers.

Up until the very end the Express just would not stay down, even as San Mig Coffee buried Air21 into seemingly insurmountable double-digit pits, they still found ways to come back and jeopardize the game for San Mig. 

The Express accelerated with a sterling 13-0 run midway in the fourth, which was capped off by a Sean Anthony (8 points, 4 rebounds) bucket to slice the deficit to 77-70 with 6:55 to play. 

But Mark Barroca (6 points) broke the Mixers’ scoring silence with two freebies on the other end for a 79-70 spread, pulling the Mixers to safety.

James Mays played a well-balanced game despite foul trouble with 25 points and 23 rebounds along with 5 dimes, a steal and a block. 

San Mig’s starters also had a much needed boost from their second group led by rookie Justin Melton, who scattered 12 points and hitting his long range bombs without fail at 3-of-3. 

PJ Simon and Joe Devance also added 13 and 10 points, respectively. 

Asi Taulava still showed no signs of slowing down as he tried to fire up his teammates in the second half with a massive dunk attempt and a completed jam towards the end. He finished with 21 points and 18 rebounds as he clocked in another long night at 39 minutes. 

Mark Cardona, who committed a crucial turnover within the final minute as he failed to catch a pass to him at the corner, figured in 20 points in a losing cause. 

The pivotal Game 3 between Air21 and San Mig Coffee will be played on Saturday, May 3 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. 


SAN MIG SUPER COFFEE (82): Mays 25, Simon 13, Melton 12, Devance 10, Pingris 6, Barroca 6, Yap 5, Sangalang 4, Reavis 1, Mallari 0.

AIR 21 (75): Taulava 21, Cardona 20, Yeo 9, Witherspoon 8, Anthony 8, Borboran 3, Villanueva 2, Ramos 2, Burtscher 2, Poligrates 0, Camson 0. 

Quarter scores: 25-20, 50-34, 70-55, 82-75.

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