Nobody gave Air21 a second look when the playoffs started, but Sean Anthony and ageless center Asi Taulava made sure the Express won’t be the same irrelevant franchise when they faced the second-seeded San Miguel Beermen in the quarterfinals.
Anthony churned out career-high numbers in the quarterfinals while the 41-year-old Taulava showed he could still mix it up with the Beermen’s young center June Mar Fajardo to lead the Express to a giant playoff victory over San Miguel Beer.
San Miguel simply needed to win once due to its twice-to-beat advantage entering the playoffs. But the PBA’s all-time winningest franchise failed to capitalize on it and bowed to Air21 in consecutive quarterfinal matches, 92-79 and 101-95 in double overtime.
The 6-4 Anthony, who missed the first six games for Air21 due to a hand injury, stepped up big in the playoffs, averaging career-best numbers of 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
On the other hand, the 6-9 Taulava averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in more than 37 minutes of play in the quarterfinals to form a dreaded one-two scoring punch for the Express.
The Air21 dynamic duo’s solid quarterfinal performance earned them the Accel-PBA Press Corps Player of the Week for the period of April 21-26.
Anthony’s presence on the court guaranteed Air21 coach Franz Pumaren a legitimate energy guy, who could defend, dive for loose ball and crash the boards.
“Si Sean, he brings energy to the team kasi kapag na-miss yung tira, makakasiguro ka na makukuha niya yung bola kasi nandun siya para mag-dive for loose balls,” Air21 veteran Macmac Cardona said in describing the team’s prized forward.
On the other hand, Taulava remains a dependable inside presence, owing to his size and his superb conditioning that enables him to keep in step with younger big men in the league.
“The hard work starts in the offseason with my personal trainer,” Taulava said. “When the season starts, I’m just out there having fun. Dream Chaser!!!”
Air21’s quarterfinal victory extended San Miguel Beer’s playoff misery, while the Express advanced to the semifinals for the first time in franchise history.
They have placed no higher than eighth since joining the pro league under the team name Shopinas.com Clickers during the 2011-12 PBA season. (RD)
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