MANILA, Philippines – Air21 leaned on prize catch Mike Cortez to edge Barako Bull, 86-85, on Friday’s PBA Philippine Cup.
Cortez scored 24 points in his debut with the Express, including the step-back jumper that sealed the win for Air21.
He also registered 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals in just 24 minutes of action, according to PBA.ph.
The 6-foot-tall point guard was acquired from Barangay Ginebra for center Yousif Taha in a trade approved last Wednesday.
"Where can you find a better script than that -- Mike taking over?" said Air 21 coach Franz Pumaren.
"That is one of the reasons why when we got him. I said we've found a solution to our main problem, for somebody who can pull us together, give us stability," he added.
Cortez also received ample support from his new teammates.
James Sena and Mark Isip scored 12 points each, while John Wilson had 11.
Barako Bull still had the chance when the ball went to Doug Kramer in the final seconds, but he failed his attempt in front of Sena’s defense.
Ronald Tubid paced the Energy Cola with 24 points.
Air21 improved to a 3-5 win-loss mark for a tie with Petron Blaze at 6th.
Barako Bull dropped to 3-6 despite Mick Pennisi, Josh Urbiztondo, Sean Anthony and Enrico Villanueva also finishing in double figures.
AIR21 86 - Cortez 24, Sena 12, Isip 12, Wilson 11, Canaleta 11, Custodio 10, Arboleda 4, Baclao 2, Escobal 0, Reyes 0, Omolon 0, Ritualo 0.
Barako Bull 85 - Tubid 24, Pennisi 15, Urbiztondo 14, Anthony 13, Villanueva 13, Najorda 3, Marcelo 2, Kramer 1, Alvarez 0, Yap 0.
Quarterscores: 18-19, 38-44, 67-67, 86-85