ASI Taulava could have just left the playing venue and gone straight to Medical City after suffering a deep cut on his left eyebrow courtesy of a wayward elbow from import Dior Lowhorn late in the first half of the PBA Governors Cup game between Air21 and Globalport Wednesday.
But the warrior that he is, Taulava convinced coach Franz Pumaren and team doctors to let him play on.
His cut heavily bandaged to stop the bleeding, the 41-year-old Fil-Tongan returned in the second half and provided the energy and the morale boost needed by the Express to repulse the Batang Pier, 106-102, that kept their hopes for a Top Four finish very much alive.
“I don’t want to walk away from my teammates being the veteran and leader of this team,” said Taulava, who scored six of the team’s last 10 points as the Express chalked up their fifth victory in eight games.
“I was supposed to go (leave the game) when it (cut) happened, but I’ve been around for so long, been cut, broken fingers and stuff like that, but what’s getting cut open like that? If I can still walk and help my teammates, I’d rather play, than walk off and regret later.”
The evergreen Air21 big man said leaving the Express just before halftime would have seriously affected the confidence of his teammates, who appeared to have been orphaned in his absence during some stretches of the second half.
Taulava admitted he wasn’t able to defend Lowhorn the way he was supposed to, but his presence in the middle alone made veterans like Joseph Yeo and Jonas Villanueva more confident in taking their shots.
“I didn’t feel the same anymore after the cut, but I just want to be out there, just be present because I know he’s (Lowhorn) gonna get his numbers,“ he said.
“But what’s important is just being out there, them (Express) seeing me out there, means more on them knocking down shots,” Taulava added.
In the end, the 6-foot-9 veteran said his decision to stay was critical in a way after managing to score a crucial inside stab from a broken play in the dying seconds that helped preserve Air21’s victory.
“Instead of going to the hospital, the ball just falls in your hand, just being in the right place at the right time,” Taulava.
Air21 returns to action on Saturday as it closes its elimination round schedule against San Miguel Beer in Binan, Laguna.
A victory would clinch the Express a place in the Top Four and earn a twice-to-beat edge in the playoffs.