MANILA, Philippines—Air21 head coach Franz Pumaren didn’t like how his team allowed Global Port to come back but somehow it turned out to be a good thing.
Not really used to eke out close wins, the Express hung on to defeat Batang Pier, 88-81, Sunday in the 38th PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
“We’re very fortunate to win this game; at least the players are getting used to playing this kind of a close game,” said Pumaren.
Air21 led by 12, 79-67, with two minutes left on a basket by Nino Canaleta before the errors piled up.
“We made a lot of mental lapses; I think it’s a sign that everybody is still adjusting to each other. The only two players from last year are Ren Ren Ritualo and James Sena,” said Pumaren. “The game should’ve been over the last two to three minutes.”
Aj Mandani scored on a nifty drive to make it, 74-79, with 1:22 left before Willie Miller went one-of-two from the line to bring Batang Pier to their closest, 75-79, with 1:09 remaining off a turnover.
Miller uncorked a three after-made free throws by Wynne Arboleda and John Wilson to cut Air21’s lead down to four anew, 78-82, with still 31.9 ticks left.
But the Express, who drew a solid outing from its rookie Yousef Taha, held their ground, making key stops.
Taha, the 11th pick, came through with just four points but had 12 rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block.
Wilson had a team-high 17 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists.
Gary David continued his slump. He still shot 17 points but went five-of-20 from the field.
Air21 improved to 1-1 while Global Port absorbed its second loss in as many games.
Miller topscored with 22 points.