2014 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Quarterfinals: Air 21 completes HUGE upset of San Miguel!

Not bad for a team that won just 3 games in the elims and went into the quarterfinals on the heels of a 3-game losing streak. Not bad for a team bannered by the also-rans of other, more ballyhooed, clubs. Not bad for a team that everyone thought should have just folded as early as a few days ago. The Air 21 Express caught a big fish last night, upsetting the heavily-favored San Miguel Beermen, 101-95, in two overtimes to book a seat in the conference semifinals. Import Wesley Witherspoon led the way with 26 points, 3 triples, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks while Sean Anthony, once again, dropped a big game with 18 markers, 12 boards, and 3 steals. Now coach Franz Pumaren’s wards await the winner of the Alaska-San Mig Coffee tussle to try and relish at the opportunity to prolong their fairy tale run.

(top) The Air 21 Express celebrate, (lower left) June Mar Fajardo attacks the basket,
and (lower right) Franz Pumaren is all smiles.

The Worst: To say that the San Miguel Beermen had high hopes entering the quarterfinals is a gross understatement. After all, this is a team that has one of the deepest rosters in the league, they have former ABL champion coach Todd Purves, they were toting a 7-2 elims record, and they also had a twice-to-beat edge. Unfortunately, SMB squandered all those things when they ran into a gritty Express club that had nothing to lose and zero expectations to meet. And it’s not like SMB played terribly here. The Beermen shot better, rebounded better, and distributed the ball better. So why’d they lose? Star players June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, and Sol Mercado all fouled out in regulation and, well, turning the ball over THIRTY times is never a pretty sight. 

Contrapelo: In Spanish, that term means “against the grain” (I think), but in Filipino parlance, that simply means one team gets the better of another almost every single time despite the latter being stronger. In this conference, Air 21 has been the contrapelo of San Miguel, what with the Express winning two of their three encounters and with SMB having to rally from a huge deficit in their lone win against coach Pumaren’s team. The big difference in all three games, aside from Witherspoon, has been Sean Anthony. The Fil-Canadian is norming around 8 points and 5 rebounds this season, but in his three games against SMB this conference, his numbers ballooned to around 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. #Wow

Game recap by Rey Joble/InterAKTV:

AIR 21 over SAN MIGUEL BEER, 101-95

The underdog Air 21 Express completed an upset of the powerhouse San Miguel Beermen with a thrilling 101-95 double overtime win on Friday at SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

The Express advanced to the PLDT Home TVolution Commissioner’s Cup final four after their second straight quarterfinals victory over the Beermen, the tournament’s second seed.

“I am really speechless right now, we were able to slay the dragon,” said Air 21 Express coach Franz Pumaren.

“I know for a fact basketball experts didn’t give us a chance to get to the next round. It’s so satisfying.”

San Miguel Beer looked like it had the game in the bag with a 10-point lead with just 2:04 remaining.

But the Express came charging back, forcing a series of Beermen turnovers to score the next eight points of the game to come within two, 81-79, with 34 seconds remaining. Sean Anthony, the hero of the first game of the series, capped that run with two free throws off the sixth and final foul of San Miguel Beer star June Mar Fajardo.

“This team just didn’t want to lose,” said Pumaren.

Anthony was called for a foul on Chris Ross on the next possession, and the San Miguel Beer captain split his free throws for an 82-79 edge with 15.8 seconds left in the game.

Air 21 import Wesley Witherspoon could only a manage to split his free throws in the next play to cut the deficit to two points.

But the Express responded by forcing a turnover on Ronald Tubid, setting up one last attempt. Witherspoon airballed a three-point attempt, but Asi Taulava grabbed the offensive rebound for a put-back at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

Without the Beermen missing Fajardo and other fouled-out stars Marcio Lassiter and Sol Mercado, Air 21 held a narrow 88-87 advantage with 23.8 seconds left in the extra period.

Ross drove hard to draw a foul with 13.1 seconds left. He once again split his free throws to tie the game at 88-all, leaving the Express with another chance to win the game.

But Mac Cardona’s floater attempt at the buzzer hit the front rim, leading to second overtime.

Taulava and Witherspoon teamed up in Air 21′s 9-2 run to take control, 97-90, in the second extra period. That was enough for the Express to book their first semifinals appearance under Pumaren, a member of the 1989 San Miguel Beer Grand Slam team.

Air 21 bucked the loss of top gun Joseph Yeo, who was ejected late in the second quarter for hitting Ross below the belt.

The Beermen and the Express have a scuffle after Joseph Yeo plants one
on Chris Ross's... treasures.

“We were able to prove something, that despite our team linuep, (because of) our team effort we were able to survive,” said Pumaren.

The Express will face the winner of the series between the Alaska Aces and the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers, which will be decided on Saturday.

“We overachieved already. I hope my players won’t be satisfied that we got to the semis,” Pumaren added.

AIR 101 – Witherspoon 26, Anthony 18, Taulava 16, Yeo 11, Villanueva 8, Ramos 8, Cardona 8, Poligrates 5, Borboran 1, Burtscher 0, Menor 0.
SMB 95 – Jones 23, Fajardo 20, Ross 18, Santos 16, Lassiter 12, Hubalde 2, Lutz 2, Marcado 2, Maierhofer 0, Tubid 0, Lanete 0, Kramer 0.
QS: 21-17, 40-43, 56-65, 82-82, 88-88, 101-95

The Express completed a huge upset in the quarterfinals!

Unsurprisingly, coach Pumaren beams with pride in the postgame press conference.

June Mar Fajardo's BPC hopes dwindle after this loss.

Todd Purves, former ABL champion with the Indonesia Warriors,
looks on in frustration as his team gets bumped out of the title race.

Weslwey Witherspoon remains an under-appreciated, but impressive, import
for the Air 21 Express.

Images by Pranz Kaeno Billones/Sports 5.

Next Post »
1 Comment

Sean Anthony trade to SMC teams next conference?