Dunigan, Cortez deliver as Air21 outplays Ginebra

Barangay Ginebra's Herbert Hill and Air21's Michael Dunigan. (Nuki Sabio/PBA Images)

Upsets continue to be served in the PBA Commissioners Cup.

Air21 made sure to keep that trend going Sunday night, hacking out a 74-70 stunner over crowd-favorite Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to get their tourney bid going on a bright note at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Described by ace playmaker Mike Cortez as a “defensive monster,” import Michael Dunigan came through with 26 points plus 19 rebounds and five blocks as the Express hung tough in the face of a ferocious Gin Kings’ fightback.

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Cortez, a former Gin King, tallied 13 points–the same output of John Wilson–along with five rebounds, four assists and two steals while emerging as the steadying presence for Express in the payoff period.

“It’s always a nice feeling beating Ginebra because of their star-studded lineup,” beamed Air21 mentor Franz Pumaren. “Man to man, I think we're the weakest right now.

“Probably we won this game in the defensive aspect. Dunigan is a big factor he gave us a presence underneath. We were kind of pressured winning this game,” he added.

Reigning league MVP Mark Caguioa waxed hot all game long with 26 points, nine coming in the fourth, while import Herbert Hill, who missed his first 10 attempts, finished with 17 points and 18 boards but the Gin Kings still came up short.

Typifying the Gin Kings’ horrific outing from the field was ace playmaker LA Tenorio, who failed to buy a bucket in 11 attempts and settled for just three points.

Employing a suffocating defensive blanket, the Express made life miserable for the Gin Kings, notably in the second where Air21 held Ginebra to just eight points on a horrendous 1-of-11 shooting.

Staring at a 21-31 deficit after 24 minutes of play, the Gin Kings finally found their groove behind JJ Helterbrand and Hill, with the two combining for 16 of the team’s 29-point output to take a slim 50-48 lead into the fourth.

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Helterbrand’s triple–his third in the second half– gave Ginebra its biggest cushion at 53-48 before a Hill bucket gave them 59-57 lead with seven and a half minutes to go.

Then the Express took over. Flaunting its balanced offensive attack, Air21 dropped a decisive 13-6 charge to gain a 70-65 cushion with 2:02 left.

Two made free throws by Tenorio kept the Gin Kings’ hopes alive at 67-70 but Dunigan spared the Express’ blushes with a gutsy jump-hook over Hill, restoring their lead to 72-67 with 42.7 ticks remaining.

After Cortez split his charities, Caguioa connected a quick-release trey for a 70-73 count. But Wilson then virtually sealed the deal with another free throw as the Gin Kings muffed their two tries in the last 25.6 seconds.

AIR21 (74) – Dunigan 26, Wilson 13, Cortez 13, Reyes 7, Isip 7, Custodio 5, Menor 2, Canaleta 1, Sena 0, Baclao 0, Omolon 0, Ritualo 0, Arboleda 0.

GINEBRA (70) - Caguioa 26, Hill 17, Helterbrand 10, Wilson 7, Ellis 3, Tenorio 3, Baracael 2, Mamaril 2, Taha 0, Jensen 0, Maierhofer 0, Hatfield 0.

Quarterscores: 17-13, 31-21, 48-50, 74-70