San Mig Coffee books trip to finals with blowout of Air21
Manila, Philippines – Prior to Game 5 of San Mig Coffee and Air21’s PLDT Home TVolution Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series, players of the Express talked about how no one expected them to be in the situation they were in, one win away from a PBA Finals appearance.
It was like they had nothing to lose.
However, after SMC put on a clinic by dominating Air 21, 99-83, on Wednesday, May 7, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the Franz Pumaren-coached club got a first hand view of what it takes to be a championship-caliber team.
James Mays had 24 points and 17 rebounds, while locals PJ Simon and James Yap contributed 18 and 15 respectively to lead their club to victory in Game 5, booking a date with the unbeaten Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters in the conference finals.
“That teams looks unbeatable,” said SMC head coach Tim Cone about Talk ‘N Text after the game. “We’re going to have to try to figure out a way. Right now, they’re the Crispa of the PBA right now.”
Game 1 of the Finals is on Friday, May 9, 8:00 pm at the Big Dome.
Air21 was spearheaded by Wesley Witherspoon, who had 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Asi Taulava had 20 and 12, while Mark Cardona submitted 13 off the bench.
Not long after the Express took an 11-9 advantage following a free throw by Simon Atkins, the Mixers proceeded to go on an 8-2 rally led by the combined efforts of Mays, Yap, and Mark Barroca, who each took turns in putting points on the scoreboard.
After Simon subbed into the game, it didn’t take long for him to make an impact, knocking down a 3-ball which was followed by a Marc Pingris free throw to give the Mixers a 21-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. Furthermore, Witherspoon, who hit eight threes in Game 4, was 0-for-3 from downtown after 12 minutes of play.
“Certainly, our guys came to play,” added Cone after the contest. “It was a total team effort. And it was just one of those nights when we were hot. We were hitting shots, we were defending on a high level, we got great play from Alex (Mallari) off the bench.”
Just like he has for many times this conference, Taulava played liked a 10-years-younger version of himself in the second period, grabbing a number of offensive rebounds for putbacks and easy bunnies at the rim to keep the Franz Pumaren-coached team within striking distance.
However, the Mixers had an answer for every Express bucket and led, 35-22, after Yap’s third triple. A few possessions later, SMC began to pull away, increasing its threshold to 16, 41-25, courtesy of two Pingris charities.
“The bottom line is, this is what happens when you play zone all the time – teams figure it out,” Cone said of the Express’ defense.
Thanks to Mays, Simon, and Yap’s combined 35 points, San Mig Coffee led Air21, 50-33, at halftime, while limiting Witherspoon to only seven markers after 24 minutes of gametime.
“A lot of people thought we wound run right over them. We knew we wouldn’t be able to do that,” Cone also mentioned about the Express, which played Games 2-5 without the injured Sean Anthony.
Taulava tried his best to give his club a puncher’s chance in the third canto, but the lack of support from the rest of his teammates caved Air21 in, as San Mig Coffee extended their advantage to 22, 73-51, with 3:30 left in the period thanks to five quick markers from Joe Devance.
Heading into the final quarter, the Mixers were comfortably on top, 81-58.
Witherspoon managed to find his stroke early in the fourth quarter by nailing two threes in the first few minutes. However, his efforts were too late, as the championship-tested, Tim Cone-coached club made sure to not relinquish their lead.
San Mig Coffee (99): Mays 24, Simon 18, Yap 15, Barroca 11, Mallari 10, Devance 7, Pingris 7, Reavis 5, Melton 2, Gaco 0, Sangalang 0, Cawaling 0, Holstein 0
Air21(83): Witherspoon 21, Taulava 20, Cardona 13, Yeo 10, Borboran 7, Camson 6, Ramos 3, Villanueva 2, Atkins 1, Poligrates 0, Burtscher 0
Quarter Scoring: 21-13, 50-33, 81-58, 99-83