by Waylon Galvez
Game Tomorrow (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
8 p.m. – San Mig Super Coffee vs Air21
(San Mig leads series, 2-1)
Manila, Philippines – Philippine Cup champion San Mig Super Coffee moved a win away from clinching its third straight finals appearance with an 84-73 victory over Air21 to gain a 2-1 series lead in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Import James Mays had 15 points and 32 rebounds, the highest output in the last nine years, while Peter June Simon and Mark Barroca added 18 and 17 points, respectively, as the Mixers put themselves on the threshold of winning the best-of-five series.
Despite playing an Air21 side that was missing do-it-all forward Sean Anthony (sprained left ankle), San Mig Super Coffee had trouble controlling the game after taking a 49-40 lead at halftime.
The Express trimmed the deficit to just two points, 59-61, late in the third period following a jumper by Asi Taulava, who eventually finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
However, a 17-6 run put together by Mays, Barroca, Simon, Rafi Reavis and guard Justin Melton bridging the third and fourth quarters gave the Mixers a comfortable 78-65 advantage with 4:47 left in the game.
Mays fell a rebound shy of tying the franchise record of 33 established by Antonio Smith during the 2005 Fiesta Cup, while his 19 offensive boards was short of the league mark of 20 set by Ginebra legend Michael Hackett during the 1985 Open Conference.
Led by Mays, San Mig Super Coffee dominated the rebounding department, 54-26.
“Without Sean Anthony out there, it puts a lot of pressure on their import Wes Witherspoon to really carry the team,” said coach Tim Cone. “But he still played great despite all the focus on him.”
“Because of the absence of Anthony, we were able to focus on (Witherspoon). Anthony really changes the game for them, he keys their defense, and he’s a threat offensively. He is a major player for them,” added Cone.
Anthony tied his career-best 29 points in a 103-100 victory in the series-opener of the semifinals last Tuesday. He had eight points in an 82-75 setback last Thursday, where he hobbled in the fourth quarter due to the injury.
San Mig can clinch the last finals berth with another win tomorrow also at the Big Dome. The Mixers will be eyeing their 26th finals stint and fifth in the last seven conferences.
Already in the finals is Talk ‘N Text, which completed a semis sweep of Rain or Shine with a 99-91 victory last Friday.
The Tropang Texters, who stretched their perfect record this conference to 13 games, advanced to their 15th finals appearance and their first since winning last season’s Philippine Cup.
Although TNT has already been labeled as the favorites in the best-of-five title series, Jimmy Alapag has urged his teammates not let their guards down against either San Mig or Air21.
“We know it’s not over. We’ll celebrate this win but we know we need to win three more games to complete our mission and that is to win the title. It doesn’t matter who we face, San Mig or Air21, it doesn’t matter. We’re just focused on our goal.”