MANILA, Philippines – A 20-point production built on timely baskets by veteran guard PJ Simon helped the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers arrest their two-game slide via a solid pummeling of the Air21 Express, 97-84, on Wednesday, April 9 as the 2014 PLDT Home TVolution Commissioner's Cup returned to action at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Simon, who noted the PBA All-Star break did him good, scored only 8 points in the first half before dropping 12 in the second half, with 7 in the fourth, as the Mixers rose to 4-2 in the standings.
But for the Mixers, the free throw line was also a best friend in this game.
Whether it was earning the two freebies via a strong drive to the hoop to fish the foul, or a chance to complete a 3-point play, the Mixers utilized fully their trips to the stripe.
After only 12 free throw attempts for the entire first half from both teams (3-of-4 by the Mixers and 7-of-8 by the Express), the number suddenly rose to 46 in total in the second half with San Mig Coffee making the most of it, 19-of-23.
The free throws became especially crucial for the Mixers in the third canto as it changed the complexion of the game in their favor.
With Air21 consistently sticking to San Mig Coffee, the Express looked primed to wrest control of the wheel at the 8:37 mark of the third when Jonas Villanueva tied the count at 53. But the back-to-back champions began breaking the game wide open at that juncture with a 10-0 blast, which was built mostly by charities.
Air21 responded by heaving three-pointers that would not hit its mark.
"We played with a lot more togetherness and connection in the third quarter. We connected a lot better than we have been over the last couple of games," said Mixers head coach Tim Cone. "I felt coming out of halftime there was a better sense of urgency, which I think was what we were lacking in the past couple of games. We kind of came up with it there in the third quarter."
The fourth then became all about maintaining energy for Cone's wards, who continued to push the ball as well as test the speed and endurance of a now 3-4 Air21, scoring 29 points on 16 fastbreak attempts. Air21 converted only 13 from their 14 attempts.
San Mig eventually built their biggest lead of the game at 88-68 on two free throws by import James Mays midway in the payoff period as they hustled and converted their defensive efforts to points on the other end.
Mays topscored for San Mig Coffee with 23 markers and 15 rebounds while Marc Pingris, who was a pure hustler once again for SMC - even grabbing an offensive rebound at one point and scoring over two guys in purple - added 12 points and 3 boards.
The Express, on the other hand, were carried by Wesley Witherspoon's 27 points and 16 rebounds, which wasn't enough for them to follow up on their win against Barangay Ginebra.
However, Air21 still picked up a good performance from Sean Anthony, who played his first game for Air21 since being traded from Talk 'N Text together with Eliud Poligrates for KG Canaleta last conference. He paced Air21 with 19 points and 7 rebounds.
Mark Cardona, who, according to Cone, was one of the targets of San Mig's stingy defense together with Witherspoon, was limited to just 10 points on 4-of-11 field goal shooting.
San Mig Coffee (97): Mays 23, Simon 20, Pingris 12, Devance 11, Yap 9, Sangalang 8, Barroca 6, Cawaling 3, Melton 3, De Ocampo 2, Gaco 0, Mallari 0, Reavis 0.
Air21 (84): Witherspoon 27, Anthony 19, Yeo 11, Cardona 10, Villanueva 5, Taulava 4, Burtscher 2, Camson 2, Ramos 0.
Quarters: 20-18; 45-44; 77-62; 97-84.