Express overcome gritty Mixers, force do-or-die

By Nelson Beltran, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 06 2014 08:45 AM | Updated as of May 07 2014 12:01 AM

Air 21's Wesley Witherspoon attempts a difficult shot against San Mig Coffee's Marc Pingris. Photo by Mark Cristino

MANILA, Philippines - Facing an end to their breakthrough run, the Air21 Express pulled off yet another surprise and stayed on course to gatecrashing the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals.

The Express neutralized James Mays 48 hours after his monstrous 32-rebound job and rained the San Mig Coffee Mixers with treys like they never did before, hacking out a 94-91 victory and forcing a deciding Game Five in their Final Four faceoff at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last night.

Wesley Witherspoon banged in eight treys and Mark Borboran, Joseph Yeo, Aldrech Ramos, Jonas Villanueva and Simon Atkins added seven in a franchise-record 15 triples as the Express foiled the Mixers’ bid to wrap up the series while keeping their shot at a first-ever finals stint alive.

They clash again for the last time at 8 p.m. tomorrow with the winner advancing against unbeaten top seed Talk n Text in the best-of-five titular series.

“In yesterday’s practice, we went on soul-searching. I told the players to just enjoy the game, spread the floor and if we’re open don’t hesitate to take the shot, not like in the last game when we’re open and we’re hesitating,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren.

“And probably, they’re (the Mixers) already looking forward to playing in the finals. I have to commend my players, they didn’t want the series ended,” Pumaren also said.

Asi Taulava, still pushing very hard at 41, held his ground in a brutal battle with Mays underneath the boards, and Witherspoon enjoyed his best shooting in a game they couldn’t afford to lose, scattering 32 points that went with eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocks in 46 minutes of awesome action.

Yeo, Cardona, Borboran, Ramos and Atkins also stepped up as the Express surprisingly dominated the Mixers after being held to an average of 74 points in the last two games.

Witherspoon punished all the defenders thrown at him by San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone.

“I was kind of hard on him (Witherspoon) in practice yesterday and he accepted the challenge. He responded by showing a great character,” said Pumaren.

Mays got 21 rebounds but made only 14 points. Curiously, Cone sat him out in the final quarter, perhaps resigned over the fact that they just couldn’t cool down the extra hot Air21 Express.

Witherspoon poured in 21 points, spiked by 5-of-8 three-point shooting, as the Express dominated the first half, sitting on a 48-39 cushion at the turn.

The Express enjoyed double-digit spreads right in the opening frame and stayed in control in the next period while putting tremendous pressure on the San Mig ball handlers.