05 June 2014

Bolts 67, Air21 80

Air21 held Meralco to an all-time franchise low four points in the second period en route to the Bolts’ lowest output in a game over the last eight conferences for an 80-67 victory in the 2014 PLDT Home Telpad PBA Governors’ Cup Wednesday (4 June 2014) at the Philsports Arena.

Dominique Sutton and Asi Taulava, a former Meralco player, presided over the Express’ tough defense in the shaded lane while also logging double-doubles each as Air21 also recorded its first-ever win in franchise history against the Bolts.

Sutton had 17 of his 25 points in the final two quarters, alongside his 18 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and a steal while Taulava tallied with 22 markers and 16 boards in the win which enabled Air21 to improve to a 4-2 win-loss record and grab a share of fourth place in the standings with San Miguel Beer.

"We tried to outhustle the other team and we toughened up more. It’s a good thing that my two big guys have been consistently giving us what they’re supposed to give the team,” said Air21 head coach Franz Pumaren. “It was really horrendous in our last game against Talk ‘N Text, so after our defensive effort in that last game, the best thing for us is to contemplate on our defense."

Pumaren also said his team wants more, likely referring not just to an outright quarterfinal berth but a twice-to-beat advantage too in the playoffs’ first round.

"We’re looking on winning at least two out of our three games just for assurance," he said. "It all depends. The two teams that are vying for the top four is SMB and San Mig. We’re aiming for the top four."

Led by Sutton, Air21 limited Meralco’s explosive import Mario West to just 16 points and 15 rebounds in his 44 minutes of play as the Bolts fell to a 1-5 slate and in danger of being one of the two teams that will have an early end to their season.

"(Sutton) takes pride in defending the import. He wants to defend the import from start to finish. We get that energy from playing hard-nosed defense, which he provides for the whole team," Pumaren said, as Sutton and the Express forced West to just shoot a paltry 7-of-29 shooting from the field.

The Express’ defensive intensity was at its best in the second half as they hounded the Bolts in every possession to take a 16-point lead, 59-43, courtesy of a Taulava turnaround jumper with 10:26 to play in the fourth, and effectively shutting down numerous Meralco runs.

The Bolts were still able to close the gap to seven in the final 2:09 after a Mario West split from the line but Sutton doused off that uprising with a lay-up and an and-one play off of an offensive board.

Cliff Hodge led Meralco with 18 points, Mike Cortez had 13, and Gary David wounded up with 10 for the Bolts who came up with their lowest output since being eliminated by Petron Blaze 80-64 in the 2012 Philippine Cup quarterfinals.

With a four day rest coming up, Pumaren is confident it will be good for his team.

"We have four days off before our next game," he said. "It’s been a difficult run for us, and I think we didn’t have the luxury of practicing well as a team because of our schedule. It gives us additional rest while waiting for Sean (Anthony) to come back."

Pumaren also provided updates on his enigmatic forward, saying, "Sean is a day-to-day thing. He’s already doing things that he’s not been doing for the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, he’ll be available on Monday."

He also admitted that the team is slowly breaking in Enrico Villanueva in the team’s rotation in time for the playoffs.

“No chance kami to do any 5-on-5 during practice because of our schedule. So we hardly do anything sa practice, and no time for Enrico to go on a 5-on-5. But slowly, we’re breaking him in,” said Pumaren. (RL)

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