AIR21 drew superlative performances from Sean Anthony and ageless veteran Asi Taulava to whip second-seeded San Miguel Beer, 92-79 and force a winner-take-all in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinal playoff on Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-4 Anthony took charge when Taulava and import Wesley Witherspoon picked up their fourth personal fouls early in the third period, scoring at will inside and hitting several long jumpers to set the stage for the Express’ king-sized upset.
The Fil-Canadian forward out of McGill scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, to go along with seven rebounds as he towed the Express to the franchise’s first-ever playoff win after three tries.
The winner-take-all match is set on Friday, with Air21 hopeful of pulling another upset to advance to the semifinals for the first time in franchise history.
“We were able to sustain our run,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren. “It’s a good thing we were able to play smart, keep our composure and the big difference there is we didn’t run away from what we were supposed to do.”
Pumaren said he was happy to see his wards regroup considering that just last week, the Express bowed to the Beermen, 93-85, after blowing an 18-point third quarter lead.
Defense was the name of the game for the Express, the seven seeds in the playoffs, who held the fancied Beermen to just 39.5 percent shooting from the field.
Import Kevin Jones carried the scoring brunt for San Miguel Beer with 34 points, along with 15 rebounds as the team’s top two locals, June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos, struggled to find their rhythm.
The 6-10 Fajardo, who is eyeing his second Best Player of the Conference award, was held to five points after being limited to just 24 minutes by foul trouble.
Santos, on the other hand, scored just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting while Marcio Lassiter was held to two points.
Meantime, four other players scored in double figures for the Express, with import Wesley Witherspoon firing 18 points, including a three-point shot with under one minute to go that proved to be the clincher.
Taulava added 17, while rookie guard Eliud Poligrates and Joseph Yeo chipped in 11 and 10, respectively.
Air21 92 - Anthony 25, Witherspoon 18, Taulava 17, Poligrates 11, Yeo 10, Ramos 5, Borboran 2, Burtscher 0, Camson 0.
San Miguel Beer 79 - Jones 34, Lutz 11, Santos 10, Ross 9, Mercado 5, Fajardo 5, Maierhofer 2, Lassiter 2, Hubalde 1, Duncil 0, Tubid 0, Kramer 0.
Quarterscores: 29-20; 45-34; 63-54; 92-79.