UNHERALDED backup players Robert Labagala and Elmer Espiritu came through with key baskets down the stretch to lift Barangay Ginebra to a 90-84 win over stubborn Air21 and keep it in contention for a twice-to-beat playoffs advantage on Wednesday night in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Espiritu and Labagala combined for 10 of the Gin Kings’ last 15 points as the two former University of the East stalwarts played big for a team that has been missing key players due to injuries.
Already without star guard Mark Caguioa due to an MCL injury on his left knee, the Gin Kings also opened the game without veteran forward Kerby Raymundo (fever) and Rico Maierhofer (foot injury).
“Five in a row without Kerby, Mark and Rico,” said a relieved Barangay Ginebra coach Alfrancis Chua, whose team vaulted to solo fourth spot with its 6-5 record.
"It’s hard because Air21 really played well. Pero finally, yung mga hugot like Elmer and Rob nagko-contribute na ngayon. and that’s a good sign na kahit walang yung tatlong players namin, magandang training ito para sa amin," he added.
Vernon Macklin led the Gin Kings with 32 points and 11 rebounds.
On the other hand, the Express fell to 5-7 after absorbing their second straight loss.
Air21 import Michael Dunigan was held to 16 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with still under five minutes left to play. Noy Baclao fouled out with still 28 seconds left in the third period. Backup center James Sena played the entire fourth quarter with five fouls.
KG Canaleta buried 29 points spiked with five three-pointers to lead the Express.
Brgy Ginebra (90) - Macklin 32, Tenorio 18, Elis 10, Espiritu 10, Helterbrand 6, Labagala 4, Mamaril 4, Baracael 3, Wilson 2, Taha 1, Hatfield 0
Air21 (84) - Canaleta 29, Dunigan 16, Cortez 12, Sena 8, Baclao 0, Custodio 6, Arboleda 3, Menor 2, Atkins 0, Wilson 0, Isip 0, Omolon 0, Ritualo 0
Quarterscores: 28-17, 46-41, 70-61, 90-84