by Tito S. Talao
Games Tomorrow (Mall of Asia Arena)
5:45 p.m. – Barangay Ginebra vs Alaska
8 p.m. – San Mig Super Coffee vs Talk ’N Text
Manila, Philippines – Armed with huge, bulging muscles, Air21’s Asi Taulava has always been the PBA epitome of the moniker “Rock.” Last night, however, the 41-year-old veteran gave the word an entirely different meaning.
Refusing to be brought to the hospital to get a deep gash above his left eye stitched, Taulava labored through the pain and blood seeping through the taped bandage to help the Express turn back Globalport, 106-102, in the PLDT Home Telpad PBA Governors’ Cup at the Philsports Arena.
An inadvertent elbow from Globalport’s Dior Lowhorn during a driving play in the second quarter opened a wide cut on Taulava’s eyebrow, with blood pouring down his face to his white jersey.
He took a couple of menacing steps after the contact toward Lowhorn, who backed off on seeing Taulava hurt, before players from both teams stepped in.
Brought to the locker room for the rest of the first half, it was expected Taulava would head straight to the hospital to get the wound sutured with a special needle which wasn’t available in the venue.
At least seven stitches were reportedly needed to close the gash.
Instead, the 2003 Most Valuable Player, his cut heavily taped, emerged from the dugout to start the second half, waging fierce battle with Lowhorn under the boards while, at least once, checking back to the Air21 quarters to have the blood-soaked bandage replaced.
Leaning on their solid “Rock”, the Express found renewed strength in thwarting every desperate Globalport foray throughout the last two quarters even as Mark Macapagal’s long triple with 48 seconds left sliced the Express lead to 100-99.
Here, Taulava imposed his granite will.
Air21 called time but the low-posting Dominique Sutton lost control of possession at the baseline, with the ball taking a high bounce. Joseph Yeo managed to get a hand on the leather and tapped it over to Taulava, who spun around Eric Menk and beat the buzzer with a soft banked shot.
Globalport drew plays for several outside shooters, with Ronjay Buenafe getting an open look but missing. Taulava then collared the most import defensive rebound of the evening as the Express exhaled with their fifth win in eight games, keeping alive their bid for a twice-to-beat spot in the quarterfinal playoffs.
Taulava wound up with 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists.