AIR21’s suffocating defense held league-leader Alaska to just two field goals inside the final six minutes to pull off a stunning 74-68 victory and revive its playoff hopes in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Friday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
Import Michael Dunigan scored the big baskets on the offensive end and made two big blocks in the endgame to anchor a superb Air21 defense that held the Aces to just 35.3 percent shooting in the game (24-of-68).
Dunigan finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in a highly-physical battle where he had to be restrained several times during the first half by his teammates after engaging in verbal tussles with Alaska import Robert Dozier, Nic Belasco and Gabby Espinas who played him tough physically.
“Well, that’s the facts of life of being an import here. I just told him, ‘Welcome to the PBA.' People will find ways to stop you and try to get into your mind,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren.
Air21 outscored Alaska, 11-5, in the final stretch to register its first back-to-back wins of the conference and vault into a tie for fifth spot with idle Barako Bull at 3-5 while dealing Alaska just its second loss in seven games.
With starting guard Jayvee Casio watching helplessly from the bench as he rested a bum knee, the Aces collapsed in the final period as Alaska coach Luigi Trillo was forced to play Cyrus Baguio at the point in some stretches.
Without a legitimate playmaker running the show for the Aces, Air21 forced Alaska to three turnovers during that final six-minute stretch, including a 24-second shot clock violation, which proved costly.
“Added bonus on our part is Jayvee did not play. But it was a great game. I guess it only shows we can play defense because we really had a hard time executing (on offense) from the start,” Pumaren said.
Air21 74 - Dunigan 25, Wilson 9, Canaleta 8, Cortez 8, Omolon 6, Menor 4, Custodio 4, Isip 4, Ritualo 3, Arboleda 3, Baclao 0
Alaska 68 - Dozier 17, Abueva 9, espinas 9, Hontiveros 9, Reyes 6, Jazul 6, Baguio 5, Thoss 4, Dela Cruz 3, Ramos 0, Eman 0
Quarter scores: 14-15, 40-32, 54-51, 74-68