WITH import Michael Dunigan slowed down by injury, Air21 rode Niño Cañaleta’s hot shooting to trip Petron Blaze, 95-91, in overtime last night and clinch the last quarterfinal berth of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at MOA Arena.
Finding his rhythm early, Cañaleta wound up with 37 points— the highest among locals in the tournament—as the Express rallied from an early 17-point deficit to post their sixth win and shut the playoff door on Barako Bull.
Cañaleta kept the Express in the game early on with his three-point shooting and recovered his touch just in time to give his team the scoring punch it needed to hold off the Blaze Boosters, who suffered their sixth loss in 13 outings, and yielded the No. 2 seed in the playoffs to Rain or Shine.
“We’re lucky Niño played well,” said Air 21 coach Franz Pumaren of his prized forward, who went 9-of-18 from beyond the arc and also grabbed nine rebounds. “If he didn’t shoot that well, the game would have been over.”
Bucking the pain on his knees, Dunigan still finished with 18 points and grabbed 14 boards in a performance that drew praises from Pumaren. “We just forced him to play today. Michael couldn’t even bend his knees,” said Pumaren. “But he showed a gallant effort. That’s the mark of a true professional.”
Needing a win to stay alive in the fight for the No. 2 berth, Petron broke out of the gates hard, racing to a 33-16 lead after the first period, thanks to Henry Sims’ strong start.
But the 6-foot-10 import, with Noy Baclao and Dunigan taking turns in guarding him, faded in the second half and in overtime, scoring just eight points, after a 22-point outburst in the first two periods.
AIR21 95—Canaleta 37, Dunigan 18, Custodio 14, Arboleda 10, Baclao 6, Isip 4, Omolon 4, Atkins 2, Sena 0, Wilson 0, Menor 0, Ritualo 0.
PETRON 91—Sims 30, Lassiter 23, Washington 15, Fajardo 5, Miranda 5, Lutz 4, Cabagnot 3, Lanete 2, Santos 2, Pena 2, Tubid 0.
Quarters: 16-29, 44-54, 72-74, 87-87, 95-91