Air 21 avoids another collapse as Ginebra benches import in comeback attempt · Wednesday, March 26, 2014 · 10:10 pm
PBA/Nuki Sabio
PBA/Nuki Subio

This time, there would be no collapse for the Air 21 Express.

After squandering a 20-point lead before losing to Meralco last Sunday, the Express held off a furious fourth quarter charge from Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to fashion out a thrilling 97-95 victory on Wednesday at SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

“We survived the run,” said Air 21 coach Franz Pumaren. “It’s a good thing we were able to regroup when they made the run. I hope this is a good tipoff point in the next game.

“This is a testament to us. We were able to bounce back. This is a learning experience for us.”

Air 21 flirted with disaster again after the Gin Kings, who benched import Leon Rodgers for most of the fourth quarter, whittled down a 10-point lead in the period to a single point in the dying seconds.

The Express came into fourth quarter with an 80-70 edge. But Ginebra unleashed a 10-2 run to cut the lead down to just two, 82-80.

Air 21 got its bearings back, refusing to give up the driver’s seat before pushing their lead back up to six points, 96-90, with two minutes to play.

Jayjay Helterbrand buried a crucial three-pointer as Ginebra came within a single possession, 96-93, with 1:08 left.

Ginebra made a couple of big defensive stops before Billy Mamaril put Ginebra within a point, 96-95, with 18.7 seconds remaining.

The Gin Kings sent Joseph Yeo to the line, and the former La Salle guard muffed both charities. But Japeth Aguilar failed to control the ball, giving the Express back the possession.

Ginebra was forced to foul import Wesley Witherspoon with 4.8 seconds left, but he could only manage a split for a 97-95 lead for Air 21.

With one final shot, Ginebra reinserted an ice-cold Rodgers into the lineup. But his shot failed to find target, allowing the Express to escape.

“He sat out the whole fourth quarter, it’s strange, but I give credit to my players for doing a good job and to my coaching staff who did a good scouting report on Rodgers,” said Pumaren.

Air 21 improved its record to 3-3, while Ginebra suffered its second straight defeat to fall to 2-4.

The scores:

AIR21 97 – Witherspoon 25, Yeo 18, Cardona 15, Borboran 10, Ramos 10, Taulava 9, Villanueva 6, Burtscher 2, Atkins 2, Camson 0.

GINEBRA 95 – Rodgers 18, Aguilar 15, Slaughter 12, Ellis 10, Helterbrand 10, Tenorio 9, Baracael 6, Reyes 6, Mamaril 4, Urbiztondo 3, Caguioa 2.

Quarters: 27-25, 57-48, 80-70, 97-95


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