Once again, Mark Caguioa delivers the killer blows for Barangay Ginebra.
With their captain rising to the ocassion, the Gin Kings hung tough and clinched a morale-boosting 96-88 victory over the Mixers to get back on track in the PBA Commissioners Cup before another capacity crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
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Reeling from a 96-93 defeat inflicted by Rain or Shine last Sunday, Ginebra immediately imposed its will on the defensive end then showed steely nerves in the face of San Mig Coffee’s last-ditch uprising.
Caguioa tallied 25 points, eight coming in the stretch and highlighted by back-to-back treys, while import Vernon Macklin added 20 markers and 16 rebounds as the Gin Kings moved out of the cellar with a 2-5 record, tying Air21 in the process.
The Mixers, who got 25 points and 16 rebounds from reigning Best Import awardee Denzel Bowles, saw their three-game winning streak came to a halt while dropping to 3-4 alongside idle Barako Bull.
Although he took the backseat anew offensively with just 12 points, heady guard LA Tenorio flourished with his playmaking abilities, collecting 13 assists–repeatedly feeding Caguioa and Macklin.
Also coming up for the Gin Kings were center Billy Mamaril, who had 13 points while stymieing the 6-foot-10 Bowles, and athletic forward Chris Ellis, who had 11 points.
The team’s suffocating defense, which held the streaking Mixers to just 34-of-88 (38.6 percent) shooting from the field, clearly made the big difference, along with Caguioa’s clutch hits in the crunch.
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“Kailangan talaga naming manalo. Kaya nag-sacrifice muna kami sa opensa. As a whole team, nagtulong-tulong kami and nag-commit talaga kami na dumepensa. Alam namin na pahihirapan kami ng SanMig kaya dapat pahirapan rin namin sila,” stated the 5-foot-8 Tenorio.
For coach Alfrancis Chua, the win will surely serve the Gin Kings in good stead.
“It’s nice to beat the champion team. They’re a very strong team–taller, bigger than us. But the thing is, we played with a (big) heart tonight. Malaki-laking isda itong nahuli namin and I’m giving it to the boys. Sinabi ko sa kanila before the game iyong kalaban natin SMC then look at their height but I believe on them na mas mas malaki ang puso nila kesa sa kalaban,” he added.
After a dominant first half where they enjoyed a big 48-35 cushion, the Gin Kings momentarily cooled off in the third as Bowles started to get himself going with 14 points, helping the Mixers closed in on at 58-67 into the fourth.
Ginebra, however, uncorked a 12-6 run–capped by a Caguioa floater–that restored its lead to 79-64 midway in the fourth, sending the relatively pro-Gin Kings crowd of 16,617 on their feet.
Refusing to quit, San Mig Coffee still made it an interesting game as James Yap completed a three-point play, cutting their deficit to just 77-82 with 1:37 left.
Caguioa then played the role of a cold-blooded assassin to the hilt, unleashing back-to-back triples that put Ginebra comfortably ahead 88-79, time down to just 46.8 ticks.
Three triples–two by Yap and the last by Joe Devance–kept the Mixers’ flickering hopes alive, but time wasn’t on their side, as Tenorio iced the game with four free throws before Macklin put an exclamation point with a thunderous slam.
“Mark just shone in the last minutes of the fourth. ‘Yung import ayaw magpalabas, si Mark ayaw magpalabas. ‘Yung puso ng import namin alam ko pagod na pagod na pero di nagpapalabas at lumalaban talaga kanina,” offered Chua.
Yap finished with 21 points but his usually reliable teammates PJ Simon, Mark Barroca and Marc Pingris were held to a combined 19 markers.
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Earlier, import Michael Dunigan came through with another dominant performance to help Air21 snap out of a five-game losing funk with a 106-94 victory over struggling GlobalPort.
Fresh from a conference-best 40 points in a stinging 88-89 loss against Meralco last Wednesday, Dunigan threw his full weight around the Batang Pier with a game-high 35 points, 12 coming in the payoff canto, plus 20 rebounds for the Express, who improved to 2-5.
“At least with this victory, it eases the pain a little from our previous games,” stated a relived Air21 coach Franz Pumaren. “It was disappointing, our past few games, when we lost down the stretch. This time we finished strong.”
Mark Isip, Mike Cortez and Wynne Arboleda backstopped Dunigan with 12 markers each as the Express overcame a late-charge by the Batang Pier along with the debut of their new import Walter Sharpe.
The 6-foot-9 Sharpe, taking the mantle from the defense-minded Justin Williams, finished with 24 points and nine rebounds while Gary David had 20 markers but those still failed to stop GlobalPort from dropping to the cellar with its fifth straight defeat and sixth overall in eight outings.
Trailing majority of the way, nine combined points by Sharpe and David pulled GlobalPort within 87-91 midway in the fourth but the 6-foot-10 Dunigan was simply too much.
Pouncing on the disqualification of Japeth Aguilar due to foul woes plus Sharpe’s absence due to suspected cramps, Dunigan wrought havoc in the paint and helped the Express maintain their lead at 97-91, time down to just 3:03.
After a free throw by Sharpe cut their deficit to just five, Arboleda drilled in a dagger of trey, virtually taking the wind out of the Batang Pier’s sails for a 102-94 cushion with 1:25 to go.
“With this game we’re back in the hunt. Hopefully, we can sustain this,” added Pumaren.
AIR 21 (106) – Dunigan 35, Isip 12, Cortez 12, Arboleda 12, Omolon 9, Wilson 8, Canaleta 8, Ritualo 6, Custodio 4, Atkins 0, Baclao 0.
– Sharpe 24, David 20, Mandani 13, Miller 12, Mercado 8, Aguilar 6, Aljamal 4, Salvador 4, Yee 3, Antonio 0.
Quarterscores: 23-15, 47-50, 78-71, 106-94
GINEBRA (96) – Caguioa 25, Macklin 20, Mamaril 13, Tenorio 12, Ellis 11, Raymundo 6, Labagala 4, Baracael 4, Maierhofer 1.
SAN MIG COFFEE (88)
– Bowles 25, Yap 21, Devance 13, Pingris 11, Mallari 4, Barroca 4, Simon 4, De Ocampo 4, Najorda 2, Gaco 0.
Quarterscores: 24-17, 48-35, 67-58, 96-88