COACH Franz Pumaren hopes Air21’s “team-first” mentality will continue to work wonders as the biggest revelation of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup playoffs shoots for a commanding 2-0 lead against San Mig Super Coffee on Thursday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game Two of the best-of-five semifinals series is set at 8 p.m.
The Express refused to roll over and die even after trailing the Mixers by 10 points, relying on the game-long brilliance of Sean Anthony and the timely snipings of veteran Asi Taulava and import Wesley Witherspoon to steal the series opener on Tuesday night, 103-100.
“The beauty right now of what’s happening is that everybody is staying the course. Everybody is setting aside their egos and everybody’s concerned right now with playing,” said Pumaren, who has steered the team to its first-ever semifinal appearance since joining the league as Shopinas in the 2011-12 season.
Pumaren calls the Express the “uninvited guests” in the semis, though they intend to seize the moment.
“We’re just here to seize the moment playing in the semis. In fact, we’re the uninvited guests in the semis right now,” he added. “But this (1-0 lead) is just temporary, we still need two wins. This is just a small step in this series.”
San Mig lost coach Tim Cone during the final 1:17 of Game One after being tossed out for incurring two straight technical fouls.
Assistant coach Jeffrey Cariaso, set to take over Barangay Ginebra soon, called the shots in lieu of Cone.
Cariaso cited the team’s high field goal shooting of 56 percent doesn’t necessarily translate to a victory every time.
“The No. 1 thing, usually when you shoot that well, you win. But the fact that even if you shoot well, it also showed we didn’t play defense,” Cariaso said.
Air21 outscored San Mig, 37-26, in the final period with Anthony and Witherspoon combining for 25 points as both waxed hot from the perimeter.
The soft-spoken Cariaso, a former 10-time All-Star, admitted Air21 is playing relaxed and with less pressure at this point, though the hunger factor is one of the biggest reasons for the team’s playoff resurgence.
“We have to come out and play. You face an Air21 team that’s hungry, confident, and very eager and excited,” he said.