ASI Taulava shook off a boxer's cut on his eyebrow to hold the fort in the endgame as Air21 turned back a fiery GlobalPort comeback, 106-102, on Wednesday night in the PBA Governors Cup at the PhilSports Arena.
Left bloodied by an accidental elbow from GlobalPort import Dior Lowhorn that opened a deep cut on his left eyebrow late in the first half, the veteran Taulava returned after treatment to make the biggest plays when Air21 fought off a Batang Pier comeback from a 16-point deficit.
The former league MVP hit four free throws to keep GlobalPort at bay in the endgame before emerging with the ball on a broken play then converting on a short stab that gave Air21 a 102-99 lead.
Taulava also had two big rebounds in the thrilling homestretch, the last paving the way for two free throws from Jonas Villanueva that secured Air21's fifth victory in eight starts and kept the team in the hunt for a place in the Top 4 entering the playoffs.
“In spite of us being so tired, we were able to suck it up,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren. “Just imagine the loose ball rebound, the tap that went to the hands of Asi Taulava. I guess it compensated with what happened to Asi."
Going against the advice of team doctors, Taulava had the staff stop the bleeding with heavy bandages and delayed being stiched up. He finished the game with 17 points, nine rebounds, and four assists.
"He might get at least seven to 10 stitches, but this game is meant for us," said Pumaren.
The Express moved into a share of third and fourth spots with idle Rain or Shine Elasto Painters at 5-3.
On the other hand, the loss was the sixth straight for the Batang Pier as they tumbled out of the playoff race for the second straight conference.
Dominique Sutton led the Express with 28 points and 20 rebounds. Villanueva added 15, while Joseph Yeo had 13, eight rebounds and four assists.
Lowhorn led the Batang Pier with 35 points and 10 rebounds.
Air21 106 - Sutton 28, Taulava 17, Villanueva J.15, Yeo 13, Ramos 8, Atkins 6, Borboran 5, Poligrates 4, Cardona 4, Villanueva E. 2, Burtscher 2, Camson 2, Menor 0.
GlobalPort 102 - Lowhorn 35, Cabagnot 19, Washington 19, Buenafe 16, Romeo 7, Macapagal 4, Menk 2, Yee 0, Lingganay 0, Hayes 0, Salvador 0, Garcia 0, Acuna 0.
Quarterscores: 29-20; 55-47; 78-75; 106-102