MANILA, Philippines – Air21 coach Franz Pumaren wasn’t pleased with how his team performed in its loss to Barako Bull last Wednesday.
It wasn’t the case Saturday night after the Express responded with a 93-82 win over San Mig Coffee at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo City.
“That’s the team I’ve been looking for,” said Pumaren. “We played great defense despite getting into foul trouble early. We limited San Mig to 80 points.”
Scoring-machine Zach Graham produced 38 points on top of 16 rebounds, three assists and three blocks while Mike Cortez tallied 13 points, including big buckets down the stretch to help hold off the Mixers’ rally.
“Zach (Graham) played well. He gave us a lift he inspired the locals to play well.” said Pumaren after the Express improved to 1-1. “I told him (Graham) I am looking for the aggressive Zach I know and he did.”
The Mixers got to within two, 80-82, on a tip in by Marqus Blakely with 4:43 remaining after trailing by as much as 12 late in the third quarter.
Cortez answered on the other end before Niño Canaleta stretched Air21’s advantage back to six, 86-80, with 3:29 left. Cortez then buried a triple to make it, 89-80, in the final 2:02 of the game.
Blakely poured in 37 points despite struggling at the line while Alex Mallari had 10 but it wasn’t enough as San Mig Coffee dropped to 0-2 after losing to Rain or Shine last Wednesday.
“We were able to prepare for this game. Got brutally frank with my players how frustrated I am the last game. We don’t want to go on an early vacation.”
Allein Maliksi, who was acquired from Barako Bull, scored five points in his first game with the Mixers.