Jay R. Gotera
MANILA — Facing the prospect of a humiliating loss in a knockout game against an upstart team, the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers left nothing to chance as they mowed down the Air21 Express, 99-83, Wednesday night to arrange a best-of-five championship series against the still undefeated Talk N Text Tropang Texters in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup. Game 1 of the Finals is Friday.
By clinching the best-of-five semifinal series 3-2, the Mixers are now on course for a third straight championship. But the challenge is a lot more difficult as they will be facing the mighty Texters who have not yet tasted defeat in 13 matches and who are itching to win their first PBA title since winning last season’s Philippine Cup.
The Finals will be a rematch of the dramatic 2012 Commissioner’s Cup Finals which saw the then B-Meg Llamados, the former name of the San Mig Coffee Mixers, winning the championship with a hard-fought 90-84 victory in overtime over the Texters in the deciding Game 7 of the series.
The Express gave it all they got Wednesday night but came short of continuing their dream run in the playoffs. Neverthless, Air21 broke new ground by appearing in its first semifinals since joining the league in 2011 after thrashing the powerhouse favorite San Miguel Beer in two straight games in the quarterfinals.
James Yap and J Simon proved nearly unstoppable in offense while import James Mays was unchallenged in the shaded lane, making it easy for the Mixers to dominate a worn-out Express squad missing a key gunner in the injured Sean Anthony.
Yap and Simon each scored 11 points in the first half alone, including five three-pointers between themselves as the Mixers broke away from a tight game to take a 50-33 lead at halftime. Simon and Yap finished with 18 and 15 points respectively.
The Mixers continued pouring on the points while suffocating the Express with their patented lockdown defense in the second half. They erected their biggest lead, 71-46, midway in the third quarter and then simply coasted to victory in the fourth quarter.
Mays led the Mixers with 24 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Mark Barroca added 11 points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Alex Mallari chimed in 10 points and five rebounds.
San Mig Coffee shot 35-of-74 (47.3 percent) from the floor and 23-of-30 (76.7 percent) from the line. Air21 was not as sharp, converting just 31 of 78 shots (39.7 percent) from the floor and 11-of-18 (61.1 percent) from the line.
Import Wesley Witherspoon led the Express with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists. Asi Taulava had another double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds. Mac Cardona scored 13 points, while Joseph Yeo added 10.
Marc Pingris and Raffy Reavis alternated in defending against Witherspoon, who scorched the Mixers with eight three-pointers in Air21’s 94-91 Game Four victory.