AIR21 opened a double-digit spread early before holding off Rain or Shine’s endgame rally for an ego-boosting 103-96 victory in its PBA Governors Cup debut on Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Express built leads as big as 17 points midway through the third period against a Rain or Shine team that showed up without coach Yeng Guiao and injured players Jervy Cruz and JR Quinahan.
The Elasto Painters got within 96-101 on a three-point shot by Jeff Chan but two foul shots by Joseph Yeo sealed Air21's first win against the Elasto Painters since joining the league as Shopinas in 2012.
“It’s a good start for us. Like what I told the players before coming out of the dressing room, we have to consider each game as a playoff game because it’s a short tournament,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren, who steered the Express to a franchise-best fourth place finish in the last Commissioner’s Cup.
The Express came out smoking in their first game in the season-ending conference, peppering the Elasto Painters with 12 three-point shots.
Gunners Joseph Yeo, Aldrech Ramos, Mark Borboran and Jonas Villanueva made at least two three-pointers each, the Express to break away from a tight 9-all count and post a 28-15 lead.
“We’re no longer the old Air21 that loses in the endgame. Our goal is to make sure that what we accomplished last conference is not a fluke,” said Pumaren.
“We want to establish that we’re serious contenders now.”
Wide-bodied import Dominique Sutton led the Express with 25 points and 10 rebounds, overcoming jetlag after arriving late last week.
Asi Taulava added 19 and 14 boards, while Yeo finished with 18 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Arizona Reid led Rain or Shine with 20 points and 12 rebounds but was a non-factor on offense in the second half.
Air21 103 - Sutton 25, Taulava 19, Yeo 18, Ramos 11, Borboran 8, Villanueva 6, Camson 6, Jaime 4, Atkins 3, Cardona 3, Poligrates 0, Burtscher 0.
Rain or Shine 96 - Reid 20, Belga 14, Chan 12, Lee 11, Norwood 11, Nuyles 7, Ibanes 6, Arana 5, Almazan 4, Rodriguez 4, Uyloan 2, Tiu 0, Tang 0.
Quarterscores: 33-24, 62-50, 85-73, 103-96