Air21's Asi Taulava (L) looks to pass while being defended by San Miguel import Kevin Jones (R) in their PBA Commissioners Cup quarter-finals game. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com.
MANILA, Philippines – Air21 defied tremendous odds one more time, overcoming super power San Miguel Beer, 101-95, in a double-overtime grind to book a first-ever PBA Final Four stint before a shocked crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Friday night.
Shaken by the loss of ace local player Joseph Yeo late in the second quarter, the Express regrouped at crunch time and nailed the most significant win in franchise history, sending them to the best-of-five semifinals versus either titleholder Alaska Milk or two-conference champ San Mig Coffee.
Showing indomitable fighting spirit, the Express achieved a breakthrough, making it past the quarterfinals for the first time since joining the league under the Shopinas banner in 2012.
Repeating their 92-79 triumph Tuesday, the Express stunned the Beermen with their twice-to-beat advantage as the playoffs second seeds.
Off 73 teams facing such opponent, Air21 was only the 10th to buck the odds.
“We were able to slay the dragon. I know for a fact that basketball experts didn’t give us a chance to get to the second round. It’s so satisfying to make it,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren.
“My team really wanted this win. This team just didn’t want to lose,” Pumaren added. “We’ve overachieved. But I still hope the guys don’t get satisfied yet.”
Asi Taulava bucked father time, leading the tough stand by the Express at winning time.
Wesley Witherspoon and Sean Anthony also stood tall as the Express fought back from a nine-point deficit at the start of the fourth and outfought the foul-riddled SMB side in the extension plays.
The Beermen lost tremendous firepower on the early exit on fouls by Marcio Lassiter, Sol Mercado, Fajardo and Doug Kramer.
Taulava grabbed a big offensive rebound and beat the buzzer with a short stab, sending the game into the first OT at 82-all.
Then the Express had a chance to win the game in the first extension play but Macmac Cardona failed to make a one-hand looper in the dying seconds.
Earlier, the Beermen were fired-up by a cheap shot received by Chris Ross from Yeo late in the first half, raising their level of their game to seize control going into the final half.
The Beermen rallied behind Ross after the SMB chief playmaker was sent down to the floor in pain by a blow to the groin by Yeo with 3:15 left in the second quarter.
Air21 had been in control of the match until the ugly incident that angered San Miguel, invigorating the Beermen to turn things around.
The Beermen spurted ahead, 43-40, at the half and roared on in the third, posting double-digit spreads with the last at 63-52.
Yeo had been Air21’s lead guy in their strong start in the game until losing his temper in a physical play with Ross. The two banged bodies at least thrice then Yeo swung a hand to Ross’ groin.