BENCHED for almost the entire final quarter, Ginebra import Leon Rodgers was put back in by coach Juno Sauler with 4.8 seconds left and the fate of the Gin Kings in the balance.
It was a decision the Kings ended up regretting.
The under-fire import wasted a chance to atone for a lackluster game, missing a potential game-tying jumper at the buzzer and allowing Air21 to escape with a 97-95 win over the Gin Kings in the PBA Commissioner's Cup on Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“It’s nice beating a star-studded team like Ginebra, though it’s more of a collective effort on our part,” Air21 coach Franz Pumaren said after the thrilling win.
Rodgers' final miss put to naught a gallant fightback by Ginebra, which wiped out a 14-point deficit in the second half with the import as well as fellow starters LA Tenorio, Mark Caguioa, and Greg Slaughter spending most of the fourth quarter on the bench.
Instead, Ginebra got back into the game behind players like Josh Urbiztondo, Japeth Aguilar, and Jayjay Helterbrand, who hit a three-pointer then fed Billy Mamaril for a wide-open stab that cut Air21's deficit to 95-96, time down to 18.7 seconds.
A split from the line by Air21 import Wesley Witherspoon kept the door ajar for Ginebra, 95-97, with 4.8 seconds to go, but Rodgers' miss allowed the Express to escape with their third loss in six games.
Ginebra, on the other hand, slipped to joint eighth place after their fourth loss in six games with Rodgers, who finished with 18 points but was benched for almost the entire fourth quarter after being outscored by little-known Mark Borboran, 6-4, in the third.
Pumaren said he was surprised to see Ginebra play without Rodgers, Tenorio and Slaughter in the final period.
"It's strange," he said.
Witherspoon led the Express with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Joseph Yeo and Macmac Cardona added 18 and 15 points, respectively.
Rodgers led the Gin Kings with 18 points, but remains unsure if the former Northern Illinois standout will still be back in a Ginebra uniform when the team returns to action next week against Meralco.
Air21 97 - Witherspoon 25, Yeo 18, Cardona 15, Borboran 10, Ramos 10, Taulava 9, Villanueva 6, Burtscher 2, Atkins 2, Camson 0.
Ginebra 95 - Rodgers 18, Aguilar 15, Slaughter 12, Ellis 10, Helterbrand 10, Tenorio 9, Baracael 6, Reyes 6, Mamaril 4, Urbiztondo 3, Caguioa 2.
Quarterscores: 27-25, 57-48, 80-70, 97-95