BARANGAY Ginebra head coach Alfrancis Chua had a simple message to his players. “I told them to look to their left and to their right. ‘Kung sino ang katabi n’yo iyan ang mga makakasama n’yo sa game. Huwag n’yo ng hanapin kung sino mga wala,'” he related.
The remaining Kings took his words to heart, overcoming their manpower woes by beating the Air21 Express, 90-84, Wednesday in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup rematch at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Vernon Macklin scored a game-high 32 points but it was the likes of Rob Labagala and Elmer Espiritu joining Macklin and LA Tenorio in a decisive 14-5 windup that lifted Barangay Ginebra from a 76-79 deficit and into its fifth straight win.
In all, the Kings improved to an overall win-loss record of 6-5, good for solo fourth-running spot, despite flu-stricken Kerby Raymundo joining Mark Caguioa (left knee injury) and Rico Maierhofer (left foot injury) among those missing in action.
“Iyung mga hugot, sina Elmer and Rob, lahat nag-contribute,” said Chua. “It’s a very good sign. Kahit wala iyung tatlo, the rest are playing their hearts out.”
The loss was the second straight for Air21, dropping it to a 5-7 slate and eighth-running spot. Things could get worse since its last two elimination round assignments are Petron Blaze and San Mig Coffee.
Nino Canaleta carrried the scoring cudgels for the Express with 29 points, anchored on five triples, as Michael Dunigan was hobbled by foul trouble early and ultimately fouled out with still 4:15 left in the game.
Dunigan, usually good for 26.6 points and 16.2 rebounds per game, was held down to only 16 and eight in just 26 minutes.
Mark Isip could have helped, but he suffered a sprain early in the game and was not fielded back.
Even Dunigan suffered a cut in his left eyebrow following a shove by Macklin that caused him to collide with Rudy Hatfield, 6:27 left in the third period.
All those helped set up the exciting finish that had Labagala sparking Ginebra’s stretch run with an elbow jumper and, moments later, scoring on a reverse off a Macklin find.
Espiritu sustained the surge with a triple and also foiled an undergoal stab by Nelbert Omolon, while Macklin also helped it along with a three-point play and a follow-up tip off a Billy Mamaril missed drive.
Tenorio wound up with 18 points, matched Macklin’s 11 rebounds and also issued six assists. His two free throws also iced the game, 3.4 seconds left.
It was a sorry ending for Air21, which gamely fought back from an early 5-19 deficit to engage Barangay Ginebra through three other lead changes before failing to repeat its 74-70 victory the first time they met.
What made the Express’ stand more noteworthy is the fact they launched most of their counters while Dunigan was riding the bench due to his fouls and injury.
Canaleta waxed hottest against his former team and so did another former Barangay Ginebra player, Mike Cortez, as they led Air21 within 41-46 at the half and to the three-point lead through a 9-0 run capped by Dunigan’s dunk off an Ogie Menor feed. (NC)
BARANGAY GINEBRA 90 – Macklin 32, Tenorio 18, Ellis 10, Espiritu 10, Helterbrand 6, Labagala 4, Mamaril 4, Baracael 3, Wilson 2, Taha 1, Hatfield 0.
AIR21 84 – Canaleta 29, Dunigan 16, Cortez 12, Sena 8, Baclao 8, Custodio 6, Arboleda 3, Menor 2, Atkins 0, Wilson 0, Isip0, Omolon 0, Ritualo 0.
Quarterscores: 28-17, 46-41, 70-61, 90-84