ASI Taulava and import Dominique Sutton led Air21’s second-half onslaught that brought down a short-handed Meralco squad, 80-67, and enhanced the Express' hopes for a place in the top four of the PBA Governors Cup playoffs on Wednesday at the Philsports Arena.
While the 6-foot-10 Taulava anchored an unforgiving Air21 defense, Sutton tore the shorter Bolts to shreds with numerous dunks and putbacks to lead the Express to their fourth win in six starts and into a tie with idle San Miguel Beer for second place.
“We buckled down to work. And the best thing for now is to concentrate on our defense,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren. “We won our three games prior to this because of defense, because of the little things, like we outhustled the other team.”
Meralco's 67 points were the lowest the franchise has scored in a game over the last eight conferences, according to PBA head statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
The energetic Sutton banged in 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, to go along with 18 rebounds and three blocks in a game that saw the Express lead, 26-23, in a low-scoring first half.
On the other hand, the evergreen Taulava chipped 13 of his 22 points in the last two quarters, while adding 16 rebounds and two assists in a dominant effort that earned him the Best Player of the Game honors.
The Bolts failed to keep pace with the rugged Express side following import Mario West’s fourth personal foul, halfway through the third period.
Without the usually dependable West to provide the offense, the Bolts eventually faded in the end as they dropped to a tie with Barako Bull at the bottom on 1-5 win-loss cards.
Air21 exploited its size advantage by outrebounding Meralco, 69-46, including a sizeable 28-12 advantage on the offensive end.
Cliff Hodge led the Bolts with 18 points, while West had a quiet 16 to go with 15 rebounds.
Air21 80 - Sutton 25, Taulava 22, Cardona 11, Ramos 7, Borboran 5, Yeo 4, Villanueva J. 3, Poligrates 0, Burtscher 0, Menor 0, Atkins 0.
Meralco 67 - Hodge 18, West 16, Cortez 13, David 10, Hugnatan 4, Dillinger 4, Idefonso 2, Bringas 0, Caram 0, Sena 0, Guevarra 0, Wilson 0.
Quarterscores: 15-19; 26-23; 53-41; 80-67.