Barangay Ginebra made the most out of the good fortune that went its way down the stretch last night and repulsed Air21, 90-84, for a fifth straight win that practically assured the Gin Kings a slot in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup playoffs.
Vernon Macklin got away with 32 points and 11 rebounds and the Kings pounced on the disqualification of Air21 import Michael Dunigan with 4:15 left to erase a 76-79 deficit and eventually rise to 6-5 before a big Smart Araneta Coliseum crowd.
Ginebra’s winning streak matched the tournament’s longest currently being held by idle Alaska and Petron Blaze while Air21, after also winning four straight games itself, took a second straight loss to drop to 5-7.
LA Tenorio scored 18 points on top of 11 rebounds and six assists and the Kings were able to pull this one out of the fire when coach Alfrancis Chua dug deep in the bench in the fourth quarter and got superlative contributions from Rob Labagala and Elmer Espiritu.
Ginebra came into the game without team leader and leading local scorer Mark Caguioa and big men Kerby Raymundo and Rico Maierhofer because of different injuries.
“I told the players before the game inside the locker room to look left and right and know that the guys you see are the ones who’ll help you win the game for us tonight,” Chua told reporters. “I told them to not look for the players who are not here.”
Niño Canaleta, the former five-time winner of the Slam Dunk competition turned lethal outside gun, paced the Express with 29 points capped by a three-point play off Espiritu with 90 seconds left that had Air21 creeping to within 84-86.
After Labagala missed a jumper on the other end, Air21 had a chance to tie the game or forge ahead. But Bonbon Custodio threw the ball away on the break by passing to a referee whom he thought was a teammate breaking away.
That error led to Macklin tipping a Billy Mamaril miss with 28 seconds left that iced it for Ginebra.
At 5-7, the Express are now just half-a-game ahead of ninth-running Barako Bull while Air21 has powerhouses Petron Blaze and San Mig Coffee as its last foes.
GINEBRA 90—Macklin 32, Tenorio 18, Ellis 10, Espiritu 10, Helterbrand 6, Labagala 4, Mamaril 4, Baracael 3, Wilson 2, Taha 1, Hatfield 0.
AIR21 84—Canaleta 29, Dunigan 16, Cortez 12, Sena 8, Baclao 8, Custodio 6, Arboleda 3, Menor 2, Atkins 0, Wilson 0, Isip 0, Omolon 0, Ritualo 0.
Quarters: 28-17, 46-41, 70-61, 90-84