Air21 maintains momentum, downs Barako Bull

MANILA, Philippines - The Air21 Express maintained its heading in the 2014 PLDT Home Telpad PBA Governors' Cup as they climbed to a 2-0 slate with a 101-86 rout of the Barako Bull Energy Cola on Saturday, May 24 at the Mall of Asia Arena. 

The Express appear to be mastering the art of fueling momentum as they steam-rolled past a Barako squad that struggled to keep up with Air21's well-oiled performance. 

Coach Franz Pumaren and his men were successful in imposing their style of play on the Energy, taking full advantage of their strength in the paint with a 50-42 rebound margin, and an 18-7 disparity on the offensive glass.  

"Probably that's why we're successful the last two games is because we're playing within our system," Pumaren said during the post-game interview. "We're using our strengths."

The 41-year old Asi Taulava and import Dominique Sutton were pure monsters on the boards with 12 and 16 rebounds, respectively. They were the only players with double-digit rebounding figures for both teams.  

And they didn't stop there. 

The pairing of Sutton and Taulava merited another beautiful display of dominance in the paint for the second straight game.  

If on their first game against Rain or Shine the duo eked out a combined 44 points, they slightly improved on that number against Barako with a total of 46 points. 

Taulava scattered 22 markers while Sutton top-scored with 24 to go with 6 thefts. 

"If you look at it, our import is really right for our system," Pumaren pointed Sutton out as one of their biggest advantages. 

"Our advantage now after the series last conference is we don't need a high-scoring caliber of an import. What we need is a collective effort. Locals should contribute one way or another, which is what they're doing - not necessarily scoring but (contributing) in other aspects of the game."

As expected from their impressive rebounding, the Express dominated on second-chance points, 18-11, and turnover points, 19-12. 

Air21 also figured in a franchise-best of only 8 turnovers, per PBA Head Statistician Fidel Mangonon III, while their counterparts threw the ball away 18 times.  

Most of the field goals Air21 fed to the hoop also turned into points as they cashed in on 34 of their 63 field goal attempts for 54% shooting. 

That was a product of their 22 total assists. 

Meanwhile, import Eric Wise was the brightest spot for Barako with his 24 points, 7 rebounds and two assists. But he was unable to finish the game after an inadvertent elbow by Sutton with 6:17 to play left Wise bleeding with a cut under his left eye. 

Jeric Fortuna put up another steady and reliable performance of 13 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Fellow rookie Carlo Lastimosa finished with 10 points. 

Barako, who dropped to 1-2 after two consecutive losses, barely threatened Air21 but came close at 76-71 with 2:44 left in the third after a Leo Najorda (10 points) three-pointer. 

But the Express caught fire and went on a 16-3 run bridging the third and fourth cantos. They scored at will from every area of the hardwood, whether it was a Mark Cardona (16 points) triple, an Eric Camson (8 points) putback, or some points from the stripe, Air21 delivered on their promise to treat every game with the urgency of a playoff match. 

And they intend to stay the course and pack even more steam heading into what would be a big test for them on Tuesday against Barangay Ginebra. 

"Now I guess everybody knows their roles," Pumaren said. "This is a good takeoff point for our game on Tuesday, which is a big game for us."

Scores

Air21 101- Sutton 24, Taulava 22, Yeo 17, Cardona 16, Ramos 8, Camson 8, Villanueva 3, Atkins 3, Borboran 0, Jaime 0, Poligrates 0, Burtscher 0.

Barako Bull 86 -Wise 24, Fortuna 13, Lastimosa 10, Najorda 10, Buenafe 10, Miranda 4, Jensen 2, Wilson 2, Marcelo 2, Thiele 0, Deutchman 0, Intal 0.

Quarter scores: 25-22; 52-45; 80-72; 101-86. 

- Rappler.com