MIKE Cortez torched his former team by coming through with clutch baskets in the stretch as Air21 pulled off a pulse-pounding 74-70 win over Barangay Ginebra in Sunday’s main game of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Cortez poured in nine of his 13 points in the final period in a solid back-up job to import Michael Dunigan, who tirelessly dominated the game with 26 points, 19 rebounds, three assists, and five blocked shots while playing for 47 minutes.
It was a rousing win for the Express, who spoiled the Ginebra coaching debut of Alfrancis Chua.
“It’s always a nice feeling to beat Ginebra because first of all, we didn’t have much stars in the lineup,” said a jubilant Air21 coach Franz Pumaren.
The Express lost a 12-point third quarter lead behind a searing Ginebra rally.
But Cortez, traded away by Ginebra in the middle of the Philippine Cup, was there to rescue the Express as he took over in the fourth period and clinched the win for Air21 in tandem with Dunigan.
Dunigan easily outdueled Herbert Hill, the quiet Ginebra import, who finished with 17 points on a horrendous 7-of-24 shooting.
But Hill made up for it by grabbing 18 rebounds and blocking four shots, although his crucial turnover late in the game proved costly for the league’s most popular ball club.
“I think Michael is a big factor, he gave us intimidation underneath. When we needed to score, he gets it done,” Pumaren said of Dunigan.
With Hill struggling on offense, Mark Caguioa picked up the scoring slack for the Kings with 26 points as he repeatedly attacked the Express’ defense. He went on to finish the game with 12-of-15 shooting from the stripe.
Also adding woes to the Kings’ cause was the poor shooting night of veteran guard LA Tenorio, who finished with just three points and two assists while going 0-of-11 from the field.
The first half saw both teams shoot poorly from the field. The Express went 13-of-50 for 26 percent, while the Kings were only 5-of-32 for an atrocious 15.6 percent clip.
The Express held the Kings to just 21 points in the first half, matching Ginebra’s lowest halftime output on March 24, 2000, when it suffered a 54-67 loss to Sta. Lucia in the All-Filipino Cup.
Air21 (74) -- Dunigan 26, Wilson 13, Cortez 13, Reyes 7, Isip 7, Custodio 5, Menor 2, Canaleta 1, Sena 0, Baclao 0, Omolon 0, Ritualo 0
Brgy Ginebra (70) -- Caguioa 26, Hill 17, Helterbrand 10, Wilson 7, Ellis 3, Tenorio 3, Baracael 2, Mamaril 2, Taha 0, Jensen 0, Maierhofer 0, Hatfield 0
Quarterscores: 17-13; 31-21; 48-50; 74-70.