Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, along with its legion of fans, can finally breathe a big sigh of relief.
Finally showing some semblance of its winning form, the Kings hung tough to fashion out a pulsating 81-79 victory over equally-struggling GlobalPort to snap an alarming five-game losing spell in the PBA Philippine Cup at the newly-refurbished Cuneta Astrodome.
Mark Caguioa tallied 19 points, seven coming in the fourth, while backcourt buddy Jay-Jay Helterbrand, chief playmaker LA Tenorio and energetic forward Elmer Espiritu provided ample support that enabled the Gin Kings to finally savor the sweet taste of success after 33 days but only their third in eight games.
“Medyo (makakahinga na) kahit isang gabi lang. It’s a good win for us. A lot of guys stepped up like Jay-Jay, LA and Elmer,” stated Caguioa, the reigning league MVP who also had four assists and three steals.
Tenorio clustered eight of his 14 markers in the third while Helterbrand and Espiritu teamed up for 20 markers, 14 coming in the payoff period that fully helped the Gin Kings’ cause.
Scoring dynamo Gary David, back after sitting out several games with a knee injury, quickly regained his deft shooting touch by drilling in 21 of his 27 points in a fiery fourth-quarter showing but former two-time MVP Willie Miller, who had 18, put all those down the drain with crucial errors in the winning moments.
Unfortunately, the Batang Pier also dropped further down the cellar with a miserable 1-8 mark, with its losing skid now extended to five.
After trailing by as many as 10, the last at 46-36 off a David jumper midway through the third canto, the Gin Kings uncorked a 14-6 run, with Tenorio drilling in eight, before the Batang Pier took a 56-52 cushion into the fourth.
The 6-foot-4 Espiritu made his presence felt in the payoff period, scoring Ginebra’s first eight points before Caguioa clustered seven of the team’s next nine points –capped by a running floater–for a 69-64 breather with 6:40 to go.
David, however, kept GlobalPort in the thick of things by firing on all cylinders, with his unmolested lay-up giving the Batang Pier a 76-75 lead, time down to just 2:40.
Five straight Ginebra markers preserved its lead at 80-75 before a Miller twinner and another David baseline jumper sandwiched a Wilson split for a 79-81 count, making it an entertaining affair with 78 seconds remaining.
Off a timeout, Miller bungled a potentially go-ahead triple then Wilson nearly turned into a goat for Ginebra, turning the ball over to Jondan Salvador and the GlobalPort immediately sued for time with 7.7 seconds left.
Getting an inbound pass from the top of the key, Miller drove hard to the right lane and tried to extricate himself against Wilson, only to step on the baseline, virtually wrapping the game for the Gin Kings.
Al Vergara then immediately fouled Tenorio, who clearly opted to miss his free throws with seven-tenths of a second left as Miller threw a prayer that went wild.
“We’re grateful for this victory,” related Ginebra coach Siot Tanquingcen. “But it’s still a long way to go for us. We hope to build on this hopefully. It’s really a process right now. Admittedly after first two games, malaki ‘yung hype, somehow nawala kami sa focus. We want to regain it.”
Ginebra now tries to extend its winning run to two–for the second time this conference–on Sunday against defending champion and pace-setting Talk ‘N Text (7-1).
Earlier, Mike Cortez proved he still has what it takes with a solid debut performance to help Air21 held off Barako Bull 86-85.
Netted recently via a one-on-one trade with center Yousef Taha, Cortez, who previously saw action for Ginebra, sizzled with 24 points, including the team’s final five markers, plus six rebounds, as many assists, and five steals to give the Express their third win in eight starts.
Five other Express, led by center James Sena and Mark Isip who had 12 apiece, scored in double figures but it was clearly the sensational plays of Cortez, fondly called the “Cool Cat” since his La Salle days with coach Franz Pumaren, that made the big difference for Air21.
“There’s no better script than seeing Mike Cortez taking over. This is what I’ve been stressing before and we’ve found solution by getting Mike, who gave us stability, particularly in the endgame,” stressed Pumaren.
After an Enrico Villanueva lay-up gave Barako Bull an 85-81 lead with 1:16 left, Cortez gamely rifled in a triple then swished through a step-back jumper that virtually pegged the final tally.
The Express, fresh from an awe-inspiring 97-76 victory over pre-season favorite Petron Blaze last Nov. 2, came through with two defensive gems in the clutch to preserve the win.
Ronald Tubid tallied 24 points while Mick Pennisi added 15 but the Energy Cola still went on to drop their sixth games in nine outings.
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
Brgy. Ginebra 81 – Caguioa 19, Tenorio 14, Espiritu 12, Wilson 9, Mamaril 8, Helterbrand 8, Ellis 6, Maierhofer 3, Hatfield 2, Jensen 0, Labagala 0, Raymundo 0.
GlobalPort 79 – David 27, Miller 18, Deutchman 8, Lingganay 7, Guevarra 7, Yee 4, Vergara 4, Salvador 2, Adducul 2, Manuel 0, Mandani 0, Al-Hussaini 0, Antonio 0.
Quarterscores: 17-20, 28-33, 52-56, 81-79