Mike Cortez clutch in Air21 debut, leads win over Barako Bull
MANILA, Philippines—Mike Cortez took over in clutch, in only his first game with Air21, to deliver an 86-85 triumph over Barako Bull Friday in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay.
Cortez, taking on a new role as the main man with the Express, unleashed five straight points to give his squad the final advantage for their third victory of the conference.
“Where can you find a better script than that,” said head coach Franz Pumaren, also Cortez’ coach in college. “Him taking over to turn things around.”
Down by four in the final half of the fourth quarter, the veteran guard first nailed a three-pointer then shrugged off his defender before delivering a go-ahead jumper with 58.1 ticks left.
Averaging just four points a game with Ginebra, Cortez exploded with 24 points—and had a balanced line of six rebounds, six assists and five steals.
But with victory within reach with under a minute to go, Air21 knew that clamping down on defense would be the only way to seal it for good.
The Express defended like white on ice, foiling each of the Energy players—who even got a chance to put up a shot at least four times in possession, but failed.
“The win, it was hard. It was a good thing I was able to get back,” said Cortez, who would turns 32 years old on Saturday.
James Sena and Mark Isip had 12 points apiece for Air21, while John Wilson and Nino Canaleta contributed 11 points each.
Ronald Tubid scored 24 points, six rebounds and three assists but couldn’t deliver the win for Barako Bull, which slid down to 3-6.
Enrico Villanueva, the Energy’s main guy inside, had to be helped off the court with just a minute left in the game after his right knee buckled.
Further tests are needed to figure out if Villanueva suffered an ACL tear or just a minor injury.
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