AIR21 showed admirable composure in the face of a searing fourth-quarter rally by Global Port, hacking out a hard-earned 88-80 decision on Sunday night to finally register its first win in the Philippine Cup dating back to last season at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Express had a 12-point lead with three minutes left in the game, when the Batang Pier launched an 8-0 burst behind Willie Miller, AJ Mandani and Gary David to slice Air21’s lead to 79-75, with 69 seconds left to play.
But Air21 leaned on its defense from there, while outscoring the pro league’s newest team, 9-5 in the final minute of the game to finally end its string of 15 straight Philippine Cup losses under coach Franz Pumaren dating back to last season.
“We made a lot of wrong decisions until the very end. Though I think it’s a sign that we’re still in the stage of adjusting with each other,” Pumaren said.
Pumaren noted that being a new team, with only Ren-ren Ritualo and big man James Sena the holdovers from last season’s team, mistakes were expected at the early stage of the conference.
The Batang Pier dropped their second straight game this season as they once again failed to get huge production from 'El Granada' Gary David, who was still struggling to get into the flow of the team’s offense.
David finished as the team’s second leading scorer with 17 points, but he could only connect on five of his 20 shots overall. The Smart Gilas 2.0 standout went one-of-seven from the three-point zone.
“We’re still lucky because Global is still in a getting-to-know-you stage also. They are still groping for form. Gary David just arrived a couple of days before opening,” added Pumaren.
But Pumaren is convinced that given more time together, the David-Miller combination this season can bring more headache to opposing squads in the future.
Interestingly, Global Port head coach Glen Capacio benched his 6-8 center Rabeh Al-Hussaini. The former two-time UAAP MVP was kept on the bench throughout as Capacio elected to use reserve big men Romel Adducul and Angelus Raymundo to spell rookie Jason Deutchman, who started for Batang Pier at center.
In Al-Hussaini’s absence, Air21’s big boys dominated the boards, 52-37 with Express rookie center Yousif Taha finishing the game with 12 rebounds, while Sena added 10 boards.
John Wilson paced the Express with 17 points, four rebounds and the same number of assists, while Mark Isip and KG Canaleta each added 12 points.
The Batang Pier drew 22 points from Miller, along with six rebounds and three assists.
Air21 88 - Wilson, Isip 12, Canaleta 12, Arnoleda 9, Custodio 8, Sena 7, Omolon 6, Atkins 5, Taha 4, Baclao 4, Ritualo 4
GlobalPort 81 - Miller 22, David 17, Deutchman 14, Manuel 9, Salvador 8, Lingganay 5, Mandani 2, Vanlandingham 2, Adducul 2, Guevara 0
Quarter scores: 24-all, 41-39, 65-60, 88-81