A RESILIENT Air21 survived James Mays’ torrid endgame burst to pull off 103-100 win over the fancied San Mig and take a 1-0 lead in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-five semifinals on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Sean Anthony led the Express with a PBA career-tying 29 points, knocking down five three-point shots as he typified the no-quit mentality of a team that was coming off a shock win over second seed San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals.
“What can I say? I think it’s really a team effort,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren, whose team registered its first three-game winning streak this season as the seventh seeds remained perfect in the playoffs.
“The one thing nice is we just don’t want to quit because during the course of the game, we were down by eight or nine points, but we just regrouped, stayed on our course and didn’t run away from what we do,” he added.
San Mig coach Tim Cone was ejected during the 1:17 mark of the game after confronting the referees at mid-court for their failure to call a traveling violation on Air21 center Asi Taulava in the previous possession.
Television replay did show that the 6-9 Fil-Tongan traveled twice as he drove past Mays en route to an unmolested layup to give the Express a 95-88 lead.
Three ensuing free throws - one by Anthony on two technicals on Cone who was so angry he stepped into midcourt to protest the call - opened a 98-88 lead for Air21 with 1:17 to go.
When asked to comment on the 41-year-old Taulava’s controversial layup, Pumaren jokingly said his evergreen center was just “too fast” for the referees.
“Asi was just too fast, it wasn’t traveling,” Pumaren told sports scribes in jest. “But kidding aside, things like that happens in basketball, whether it’s traveling or not, that’s breaks of the game.”
But after Cone got tossed out of the game, the Mixers rode on the endgame efforts of Mays, who single-handedly carried them back by scoring 13 straight points.
The hard-banging San Mig import could have sent the game into overtime, but his three-point heave from the top of the key in the final second came short, allowing the Express to register the first semifinal win in franchise history.
Three other Air21 players scored in double figures, with import Wesley Witherspoon banging in 25 points, Taulava 14 and nine boards, while Joseph Yeo adding 11.
Mays finished the game with 27 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, five steals and two blocks, while Mark Barroca and Peter June Simon each had 11.
Game Two is set on Thursday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Air 21 103 - Anthony 29, Witherspoon 25, Taulava 14, Yeo 11, Ramos 9, Poligrates 7, Cardona 4, Borboran 2, Villanueva 2, Burtscher 0, Camson 0.
San Mig 100 - Mays 27, Barroca 11, Simon 11, Devance 10, Sangalang 10, Melton 8, Pingris 7, Mallari 7, Reavis 6, Yap 3, De Ocampo 0.
Quarterscores: 23-24, 48-51, 66-74, 103-100