With a precious quarterfinals berth at stake, San Mig Coffee wasted little time in getting the job done Wednesday night.
Employing a suffocating defensive blanket all throughout, the Mixers carved out a methodical 80-66 victory over the slumping Air21 Express to formalize their entry into the quarterfinals in the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
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Reigning Best Import awardee Denzel Bowles immediately imposed his will in the lane, pumping 19 of his game-high 29 points in the first half, before locals PJ Simon, Marc Pingris, Mark Barroca and seldom-used Jerwin Gaco took turns in delivering the crucial points.
Those exploits enabled San Mig Coffee to gain a fitting follow-up to its close 83-82 victory over Talk ‘N Text last week and move up to solo fifth with a 7-6 record.
With former two-time MVP James Yap hardly making his presence felt by laying a big fat egg in 14 dreary minutes of action, the 6-foot-1 Simon emerged as Bowles’ offensive sidekick anew, coming through with 12points, all in the second half.
Pingris also added 14 points and as many rebounds before resting on the bench with a sprained right ankle in the last eight minutes.
But it was the Mixers’ collective desire to play outstanding defense that clearly made the biggest difference, holding the Express to just 25-of-83 shooting (30.1 percent) overall from the field.
Import Michael Dunigan, who dominated the Mixers with 25 points and 20 rebounds in the Express’ 87-82 win last March 20, struggled this time against Bowles and Co., settling for just 18 markers with just 13 attempts from the field.
KG Cañaleta exploded in the fourth with 14 of his 26 markers but Air21 still suffered its third straight setback and eighth overall, keeping the playoffs door ajar for ninth-running Barako Bull (4-8).
MVP: Bowles, indeed. Outplayed by Dunigan in their previous meeting, the 6-foot-10 James Madison University standout played like a man on a mission.
His deft shooting touch at the perimeter in full display early on, Bowles ignited the Mixers’ scorching 15-2 start. Although the Express kept within striking distance, Bowles proved to be San Mig Coffee’s anchor in the lane, preventing Dunigan from crashing the boards .
Despite taking a backseat offensively in the second half, Bolwes’ local teammates proved up to the task to keep their rivals completely at bay.
X-Factors: Pingris and…..Gaco. More known as a defensive stopper, the 6-foot-4 Pingris delivered the goods offensively with 14 points while hauling down 14 boards and making life miserable for Dunigan and Cañaleta. The Pozorrubio, Pangasinan native, however, injured his right ankle early in the fourth, giving the Gaco extended minutes on the court.
The former La Salle bruiser then made most of his rare 16-minute stint, racking up six points, with a pair of jumpers coming in the stretch.
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The 6-foot Simon, as expected, filled up the slack anew for Yap, with 12 points
Game Turning Point: After the Express wiped out an early 13-point deficit and forged a 25-all count, the Mixers rode on the broad shoulders of Bowles in a telling 19-4 run to post a 44-29 lead at the break.
The closest Air21 could get was at 45-54 early in the third canto but San Mig Coffee managed to kept the game in control.
“When you don’t have James, it’s nice to have PJ out there. PJ played wonderful game along Denzel,” beamed San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone of his prized scoring guard.
“If we need to play good basketball, this is the time to do it. We’ll see if we could get one over Meralco (on Saturday) and get some momentum going into the playoffs,” he added.
“He (Dunigan) got me in the first game so I just wanna come out to prove myself,” said Bowles of his match-up against Dunigan.
SAN MIG COFFEE (80) – Bowles 29, Pingris 14, Simon 12, Barroca 9, Devance 7, Gaco 6, Mallari 2, de Ocampo 1, Najorda 0, Yap 0, Gonzales 0, Reavis 0.
AIR 21 (66) – Canaleta 26, Dunigan 18, Isip 10, Omolon 4, Menor 2, Custodio 2, Cortez 2, Arboleda 2, Atkins 0, Sena 0, Wilson 0, Baclao 0, Ritualo 0.
Quarterscores: 20-16; 39-29; 60-45; 80-66
SLIDESHOW OF THE GAME: