MANILA, Philippines – After relinquishing a double-digit lead in the third quarter, the San Mig Coffee Mixers dominated Air21 Express on the glass and forced their foes to consecutive turnovers in the fourth period to win Game 3, 84-73 on Saturday, May 3.
With the victory, San Mig Coffee took a 2-1 series lead in their semifinal playoff at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
All throughout the game, the Express, playing without injured Sean Anthony, were dominated in the rebounding department by the Mixers, 54-26, led by import James Mays.
Mays scored 15 points and grabbed 32 rebounds. Leading the team in scoring were locals PJ Simon and Marc Barroca, who combined to score 35.
“Anthony really changes the game for them. He’s been playing very well,” San Mig Coffee head coach Tim Cone said after the game.
He added: “He keys their defense, he keys their hustle on the boards, and he’s a threat offensive. He’s really a major player for them, so that put more pressure on the import, and we were able to take advantage of that.”
The Express were spearheaded by Asi Taulava, who contributed 21 points and 8 rebounds. Import Wesley Witherspoon, meanwhile, had 19 markers but shot only 3-of-9 from 3-point range.
In the fourth quarter, the Mixers started to pound the glass ferociously, taking advantage of the Express’ weak rebounding while forcing steals and getting easy layups. A Barroca 3-ball raised San Mig Coffee’s lead to 9, while a series of fastbreak buckets from Melton and Simon made the count 78-65 in favor of the Mixers.
With a little over two minutes left, a struggling Pingris streamed through a wide open sideline to throw down a massive slam, putting SMC on top, 82-68, and providing the dagger to end the ballgame.
The Mixers are now one more win away from reaching the Finals of the PBA Home TVolution Commissioner’s Cup, where they would face Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters. Cone, though, is not yet concentrating on a possible date with the Norman Black-coached club.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. It’s a cliché and everyone says it, but everyone says it because it’s true.”
Furthermore, Cone, who owns the record for most championships won by a head coach in the PBA, said some of his guys are still not 100% – particularly Marc Pingris, who scored only 7 points in 30 minutes of action.
“There’s no doubt that right now Pingris is playing on fumes. Anything we can get from guys coming off the bench – Ian, we’re hoping to get more from Ian – but that really helps us out.”
With Simon and Witherspoon each recording 5 early points, both clubs raced off to quick starts, knotting up at 9-9. Moments later, a triple by Simon started a 13-4 run for the Mixers, which featured a couple of consecutive blocks from Mays to spark SMC’s defense, giving them a 22-13 advantage.
Taulava, meanwhile, struggled against the defense of the San Mig Coffee import and settled for a couple of mid-range jumpers to start the game.
After 12 minutes of action, San Mig Coffee led by 9, 24-15, as Simon led the way with 10 points.
The Express trimmed SMC’s lead and got within 3, thanks to a pair of jumpers by stretch forward Aldrech Ramos, 28-25, a few minutes into the second canto.
Cone, sensing his team was in need of a spark, quickly reinserted Joe Devance, who converted on an and-one play to put the Mixers back up 6 and stop Air 21’s rally.
In the next few minutes, the contest started to get chippy, as both Air 21 and SMC made consecutive trips to the free throw line with the game getting more physical.
Mays dominated the Franz Pumaren-coached squad on the glass for second-chance points, scoring 9 of his 15 markers in the second quarter.
Eliud Poligrates managed to hit a right-corner 3-ball just before intermission, but SMC still had a 9-point advantage, 49-40, after 24 minutes of playing time.
The third quarter started with a more aggressive Taulava attacking the rim, converting on a lay-up and earning a trip to the charity stripe. However, great defense from San Mig Coffee led to a couple of Air 21 turnovers, giving the Mixers a 58-45 lead.
With 8:25 left, things got heated as Pingris was assessed a technical foul for shoving (second motion) Witherspoon, sparking a 14-3 Express run, 61-59, capped off by a couple of free throws by Taulava. However, a 3-ball by Mark Barroca ended Air 21’s surge late in the third period, giving the Mixers a 64-59 threshold heading into the deciding quarter.
Though the Express shot 44.1% from the field, its main perimeter guys, Joseph Yeo and Mark Cardona, scored only a combined 10 points thanks to San Mig Coffee’s hardnosed defense.
“We think stops instead of makes,” added Coach Cone.
Game notes: the Mixers shot only 39.5% from the field; both clubs had 15 turnovers each; SMC attempted 21 free throws to Air 21’s 11 in the first half, and wound up with 27 total for the game; Mays had 19 offensive rebounds – the second most by an import in PBA history.
San Mig Coffee: Simon 18, Barroca 17, Mays 15, Devance 9, Pingris 7, Melton 6, Yap 6, Reavis 4, Sangalang 2, De Ocampo 0, Gaco 0, Mallari 0
Air 21: Taulava 21, Witherspoon 19, Ramos 10, Yeo 5, Burtscher 5, Cardona 4, Borboran 3, Poligrates 3, Villanueva 2, Jaime 0, Menor 0, Atkins 0
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