FOR almost the entire game Air21 was proving to be a big puzzle Talk ‘N Text could not solve. Turned out the Express would do it for the Tropang Texters, when it mattered most.
The defending champion pounced on two costly lapses by Air21 in the endgame to carve out a 105-100 victory Thursday and make it to the semifinals of the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ranidel de Ocampo drained a clutch triple and Jayson Castro and Jimmy Alapag helped oput the game away from the stripe, but it was Air21 shooting itself in the foot inside the last minute that enabled top-ranked TNT to preserve its win-once advantage over the No. 8 seed.
As as result, the Texters advanced to its eighth straight best-of-seven semifinals, awaiting the winner of the Alaska-Meralco quarterfinals duel which could be decided Friday.
“Our hats off to Air21. They were well-prepared, really defended us very well today,” said Tropang Texters head coach Norman Black.
“As I keep saying, they are much better than what their record indicates. But at the same time, we’re happy to move on, take another step to get back to the championship.”
Mike Cortez had 21 points, a career- and season-high 18 assists and missed a triple double by a mere rebound to complement Nino Canaleta’s game-high 25 points. All those, however, were put to waste by Canaleta and Bonbon Custodio.
With Air21 down 100-103 following Castro’s charities and needing a triple in the last 13.5 seconds, Custodio inexplicably went for a left-handed drive instead. He lost control of the ball and ultimately lost it out of the baseline in the process.
That allowed Alapag to close out the game with a pair of charities, only 4.4 ticks left.
Even Canaleta could blame himself as he failed to give Air21 the upper hand after teammate Noynoy Baclao’s spin move and layup forged the game’s last deadlock at 98 and then blocked De Ocampo, giving the Express possession with 27.3 ticks left.
Following a timeout, Canaleta spun for separation against Harvey Carey but opted for a baseline jumper instead of going hard to the hoop. He hit just the side of the board.
In the resulting play, De Ocampo’s straightaway triple gave TNT a 101-98 lead, 21.4 seconds remaining.
Ryan Reyes and Larry Fonacier each had 16 points to lead TNT, with the former adding a team-high nine rebounds and a game-high four steals.
The way the Express almost pulled the rug from under his team rankles at Black.
“We have to figure out what Air21 did to us and pick out our weaknesses that showed tonight,” said Black. “Definitely, we have to raise our game to a different level if we want to get to the finals.”
Air21 sure showed some grit, taking two 11-point leads in the second quarter through Cortez and Mark Isip while mostly pouncing on TNT’s turnovers.
It did not take long for the Tropang Texters’ offense to heat up, however, and it even took the half at 51-47 before erecting their own 11-point spreads, the last at 68-57.
Like a pesky younger brother, Air21 would not go away so easily. (NC)
TALK N’ TEXT 105 – Reyes 16, Fonacier 16, Castro 15, De Ocampo 13, Alapag 13, Aban 10, Dillinger 8, Peek 8, Williams 4, Carey 2, Raymundo 0.
AIR21 100 – Canaleta 25, Cortez 21, Isip 18, Ritualo 14, Baclao 10, Custodio 9, Arboleda 3, Sena 0, Wilson 0, Reyes 0.
Quarterscores: 25-23, 51-47, 85-79, 105-100
Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.
Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.
Copyright © , PBA
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate: c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94