MANILA, Philippines - The Air21 Express made up for their sputtering offense with a solid effort on defense to land an 80-67 triumph over the Meralco Bolts in the 2014 PLDT Home Telpad Governors' Cup on Wednesday, June 4 at the Philsports Arena.
The win allowed the Express to be among the top 4 teams in the standings with a 4-2 win-loss record, behind only the 4-1 slates shared by Barangay Ginebra, San Mig Super Coffee, and Talk 'N Text.
"It was really horrendous last game against Talk 'N Text," Air21 head coach Franz Pumaren looked back at their previous loss to the Texters. "We went at it back and forth and said the best thing for us to do right now is to really concentrate on our defense."
That collective mindset to focus on defense came at a crucial time as the Express found themselves cold on offense against the Bolts.
The Express were horrible offensively in the first 24 minutes of this game, shooting only 25%. But the now 1-5 Bolts were even worse with a paltry 24.4%.
Likely due to a combination of good defense by Air21 and a very bad shooting night, Meralco fired bricks and scored only 4 points in the second canto, leading to a 26-23 halftime edge for Air21.
"We won 3 games prior to this because of defense, because we did those little things," Pumaren explained. "We tried to out-hustle and outwork the other team."
Air21 turned it on in the third, able to produce 27 points as they began pulling away from the hapless Meralco. Once the boosters were on, Air21 never relented.
With 10:26 to play in the game, Asi Taulava made good on turnaround jumper to build a 16-point advantage, 59-43.
However, the Law of Averages finally caught up with the misfiring Meralco as Mike Cortez injected some much-needed energy into his team by dropping 11 of his 13 points in the payoff period.
Eight minutes before the final buzzer, Cortez swished in a pair of triples to bring the Bolts to within, 65-57. His efforts and hustle eventually paid off when they inched closer at 70-63 with 2:52 left after a split from Mario West, who ended up with 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Bolts.
But Air21 import Dominique Sutton wouldn't have any of it as he jumped high for an offensive board and scored the dagger, 74-63, with 1:27 to play.
And although he airballed the extra freebie that could've made it a three-point play, Sutton still finished with 25 points and 18 rebounds.
Taulava, on the other hand, added yet another double-double of 22 points and 16 rebounds.
For Meralco, Cliff Hodge led the way with 18 points, while a cold-shooting Gary David chipped in 10 markers.
Pumaren says the 4-day break before their next game on Monday against San Mig Coffee is very much welcome considering they're still awaiting the return of injured Sean Anthony, another hustle guy they could count on.
According to Pumaren, Anthony is still day-to-day but there is "no pain at all right now." He hopes Anthony could at least begin practicing on Monday.
Air21 80 - Sutton 25, Taulava 22, Cardona 11, Ramos 7, Borboran 5, Yeo 4, Villanueva J. 3, Camson 3, Villanueva E. 0, Poligrates 0, Burtscher 0, Menor 0, Atkins 0.
Meralco 67 - Hodge 18, West 16, Cortez 13, David 10, Hugnatan 4, Dillinger 4, Ildefonso 2, Bringas 0, Caram 0, Salvacion 0, Sena 0, Guevarra 0, Wilson 0.
Quarter scores: 15-19, 26-23, 53-41, 80-67.