AFTER being pounded by San Mig import James Mays for a season-high 32 rebounds in Game Three, Air21 has made up its mind to gamble on bringing in injured stars Enrico Villanueva and Sean Anthony when the Express fight for dear life on Monday.
However, the plan to activate Villanueva was shot down by a technicality.
Villanueva, who arrived at Air21 last March in the complex trade that also involved Jonas Villanueva, Carlo Sharma, and Ronnie Matias, has been joining the Express in practice for quite some time now as he completed the rehabilitation of his knees.
“Ready na si Rico. He only needed time. His knees are already strong enough to play. Pero syempre, depende pa rin 'yan kay Coach Franz (Pumaren),” said Air 21 therapist Mike Sunga.
“Ilang beses na rin siya naka-join sa practice, pero madalas talaga sa gym lang siya, weights,” he added.
But the plan to activate Villanueva in time for Game Four failed to get off the ground since the transaction failed to beat the league deadline.
According to Willie Marcial, the PBA media bureau chief and a special assistant to the commissioner, the reactivation of Villanueva should have been submitted to the league office at the close of its office hours at 12 noon on Saturday.
The veteran Villanueva would have come in handy for Air21 in its bid to stop Mays, who set season highs in total rebounds and offensive boards (19) in an 84-73 victory on Saturday that gave San Mig a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Now Air21 may be compelled to play Anthony, who played the hero’s role in Air21’s stunning victories over twice-to-beat and second seed San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals as well as in the team’s stinging 103-100 upset of San Mig in Game One.
However, Anthony's Achilles tendon strain, which he hurt in the San Miguel series, forced him to sit out Game Three.
Air21 veteran Asi Taulava said Anthony will be a big help - if he is fit enough to play.
“We really missed Sean out there. Mays had a grand time underneath, muscling his way against our big men,” said Taulava, who was forced to pass the defensive chores on Mays to youngster Mike Burtscher due to foul trouble.
“It was a struggle for us. I was out there defending against Marc Pingris, and coach Tim Cone is wise enough to tell Ping to slide up to the three-point line that I couldn’t help out downstairs,” he added.
Meanwhile, coach Tim Cone bared that with the resilience the Express have been showing in the playoffs, he still isn't even thinking of early finalist Talk 'N Text.
“Talk 'N Text is not on our mind yet. We just want to focus on trying to finishing this thing out. Air 21 has pulled surprises all the way through the conference and they’re very capable on doing another one,” said Cone.
“So we gotta keep our focus and be mentally right for this series and hopefully we take care of it on Monday,” he added.