PLAYMAKER Mark Barroca provided the energy and scoring punch in the fourth quarter as San Mig beat Air21, 84-73, to move within a win of a place in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals on Saturday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Barroca, the Finals MVP in the last Philippine Cup, scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth period when the Mixers finally put away an Air21 team that simply wasn't the same without injured talisman Sean Anthony.
Barroca opened the fourth canto with a putback off a missed three-point attempt by Joe Devance, before adding a three-point basket with the shot clock winding down.
By the time Barroca scored on another acrobatic layup, the Mixers were in full command, 80-68, heading into the final three minutes.
The 6-4 Anthony, who is averaging 18.5 points in the series and shot 55.6 percent from the three-point zone, sat out Game Three due to an Achilles heel injury.
“Without Anthony there, it puts a lot of pressure on Wesley Witherspoon to carry the (Air21) team,” said San Mig coach Tim Cone after the game.
“That allows us to really put our focus on him (Witherspoon). But he played great. He still made shots, but we really worked hard to really limit him,” he added.
Cone gave credit to Barroca and rookie Fil-Am guard Justin Melton, whose quickness and energy on defense disrupted Air21’s offense in the fourth period.
“We didn’t see that (Barroca-Melton tandem) much this conference. But I think come playoff time, they step up their game,” Cone said.
“They really changed the game with their quickness, hustle and speed, and that combines to be a big problem for the other guards,” he added.
PJ Simon led the Mixers with 18 points, while import James Mays added 15 and a conference-high 32 rebounds including 19 off the offensive boards.
Mays’ 32 boards was the most in a game by any player in the PBA since Antonio Smith's 33 for Purefoods in the 2005 Fiesta Conference in a game against Sta. Lucia.
San Mig completely overwhelmed Air21 with its sheer frontline size to grab a huge 54-26 rebounding advantage.
Asi Taulava carried the scoring load for the Express for the second straight game with 21 points to go along with eight rebounds.
Witherspoon added 19, while Aldrech Ramos added 10.