ASI Taulava was on the losing side of one of the biggest upsets in the PBA more than a decade ago.
Now, he's mighty glad to be on the winning end of another major reversal for a change.
The ageless Air21 center made the key baskets down the stretch to lift the seventh-seed Express to a pulsating 101-95 double-overtime victory over second-seeded San Miguel Beer and a breakthrough semifinal appearance in franchise history on Wednesday night.
The massive triumph somehow eased the pain Taulava felt more than a decade ago when the then prized rookie and his top-seeded Mobiline Phone Pals lost to eight-seed Barangay Ginebra no thanks to Bal David’s memorable buzzer-beating shot in the quarterfinals.
“I lived with that nightmare for fifteen years,” Taulava revealed. “Being eliminated like that. Sometimes I say I forgot about it, but I tell you one thing: it did make me the person I am today — that pain, going to the gym, spending all those extra hours with my personal trainer, making sure that when this opportunity comes, I’ll take advantage of it.”
“And I was ready for it tonight. It took a little bit longer — two overtimes — (but we made it).”
Taulava, the league’s oldest player at 41, continued to defy Father Time as he tallied 16 points, none more important than the two off a putback at the buzzer that sent the game into overtime, and five more in the second extra session that enabled the Express to hold on.
It was fascinating for the 15-year PBA veteran to have lasted two overtimes and play 45 minutes while scattering nine boards, three blocks, and two assists as he reached the semifinal stage in the pro league for the first time in seven years.
“Coach was asking me if I was okay, I said, ‘I’m the youngest player on the team. Of course I’m okay,’” he recounted, drawing laughter from the scribes.
“But it was just a great team win,” Taulava was quick to add as he had plenty of help from Sean Anthony, Mac Cardona, among others. “There were so many guys who stepped up. This team is coming together at the right time. We struggled at the beginning of the season, but we’re peaking at the right time.”
Now, the Express wait for their opponent in the semifinals — Alaska or San Mig Coffee.