2014 PBA Commissioner’s Cup: The Air 21 fairy tale continues as the Express beat the Mixers!

What’s more amazing than the Talk N Text Tropang Texters winning 11 straight? How about the Air 21 Express upsetting the San Miguel Beermen in the quarterfinals, 103-100, and then slipping past the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers for a 1-0 lead in their semifinal match-up. Even more amazing? Air 21 forced the usually efficient Mixers to commit 20 turnovers,  and the Express also survived SMC shooting 57% from the floor. How the hell did they do that? Well, coach Franz Pumaren’s wards connected on 44% of their threes (44%), made 25 of 35 free throws (kudos to their aggressiveness), and stole the ball 13 times. Can it happen two more times this series? I don’t think so, but, hell, Air 21 doesn’t care about what anyone thinks now do they? They just care to defy expectations.

Sean Anthony (top) came up big again as the Express fried another big
fish in the San Mig Coffee Mixers!

The Worst: In his last 8 games, “Big Game” James Yap has scored in double-figures only once (12 points in a loss to Alaska in the quarterfinals), has shot just 21% from three-point land, and has made only 23% of his total field goals. In short, James Yap hasn’t been making the grade. He is one of the highest-paid PBA players right now, and yet his on-court production hasn’t barely been worth the value of his kicks. I want to say Yap is due for a breakout game, but he’s been due for one since pretty much the third game of this conference and we’re all still waiting.

All wrong: I have to admit, I had Sean Anthony all wrong. I relished in his unexpected great showing against Arwind Santos and the Beermen, but I was sure he’d struggle against Gilas power forward Marc Pingris. Pingris, after all, held many of Asia’s finest frontliners to pedestrian production in last year’s FIBA Asia tourney. Anthony continued to piss at those projections, though, coming up with easily one of the best, if not THE best, game of his young PBA career. The Fil-Canadian combo forward swished 5 triples on his way to a game-high 29 points. He was aggressive on both ends of the floor, and he was rewarded accordingly with 14 free throw attempts (he made 10). In contrast, as a team, SMC shot 16 freebies. Anthony also added 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 assist to a stellar line.

Game recap by Rey Joble/InterAKTV:

AIR 21 over SAN MIG SUPER COFFEE, 103-100

The Air 21 Express continued their surprising run in the PLDT Home TVolution Commissioner’s Cup playoffs, defeating the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers, 103-100, in Game One of their semifinals series at Mall of Asia Arena.

“It’s really a team effort. One nice thing about my team right now is we just don’t want to quit,” said Air 21 coach Franz Pumaren.

Sean Anthony continued to torch the hoops, finishing with 29 points to lead Air 21.

Sean Anthony unloaded a career-defining game against the Mixers.

The hardworking forward, who joined the team late last conference in a trade for Talk ‘N Text, had long been a Pumaren favorite.

“A year ago, we met in a function. I asked him if there’s an opportunity for me to get him, if he wants to play for us, he said yes,” said Pumaren of Anthony, who averaged 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in Air 21′s two-game upset of San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals.

“We found somebody suited in what we wanted to do.”

The Express used a late fourth quarter run to put away the Mixers.

Aldrech Ramos, a former San Mig Coffee player, hit a bailout three-pointer to put the Express ahead, 88-87, and touch off the Express’ run.

Controversy erupted a couple of plays later after an Asi Taulava layup made it 95-87 for Air 21. San Mig Coffee players howled in protest, while coach Tim Cone stormed the court to complain to referees as television replays showed Taulava traveled on the play.

“Things like that happen in basketball,” said Pumaren.

Cone was called for consecutive technical fouls, leading to ejection. His deputy Jeffrey Cariaso, who had been appointed to take over Ginebra earlier in the day, took over coaching duties to finish the game.

Soon-to-be Ginebra coach Jeffrey Cariaso took the reigns after
Tim Cone was ejected.

With San Mig Coffee trailing by 10 points, 98-88, import James Mays went on a rampage for the Mixers. Aided by missed free throws from the Express, Mays carried the Mixers to within one possession, 103-100, with just 3.9 seconds left.

San Mig Coffee sent Anthony to the line after an Air 21 timeout. The Express forward muffed both charities, but Mays did not have enough time to put up the game-tying attempt.

For Pumaren, in his first semifinals appearance as a PBA head coach, the win was nothing to celebrate.

“We still need two more games. This is just a small step in this series,” said Pumaren.

AIR 103 – Anthony 29, Witherspoon 25, Taulava 14, Yeo 11, Ramos 9, Poligrates 7, Cardona 4, Borboran 2, Villanueva 2, Burtscher 0, Camson 0.
SMC 100 – Mays 27, Barroca 11, Simon 11, Devance 10, Sangalang 10, Melton 8, Pingris 7, Mallari 7, Reavis 6, Yap 3, De Ocampo 0.
QS: 23-24, 48-51, 66-74, 103-100

Wesley Witherspoon argues a call with the referee. His team is nearing
an improbable upset in the semifinals.

Air 21 center Asi Taulava engages SMC import James Mays in some pleasantries.

Do you see what I see?
Pranz Kaeno Billones is clearly a #gifted photographer.

Justin Melton skies for the pregame jam!

Images by Paolo Papa and Pranz Kaeno Billones/Sports 5.

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