It was another classic encounter between the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers and the Air 21 Express. It was a playoff atmosphere right from the opening tip as the Express looked to get back at the Mixers for eliminating them in the Commissioner’s Cup Semifinals in 5 hard-fought games last conference.
It looked like San Mig still got Air 21’s number this time and would be able to cruise with the win after leading by 11 after 3 quarters, 80-69. However, the Express had one more fight left in them as they mounted a fourth quarter comeback to force OT. But in the end, the Mixers came out on top and were lucky to have escaped with a close victory, 113-109.
Yes, I say the Mixers were lucky to win this one against the Express. Let’s see how this game went down and check how the Mixers fared in this one.
Story of the Game
As I’ve said in my pregame primer for this game, rebounding will be a key factor in this game. Air 21’s been a solid rebounding team this conference, dominating the boards in 5 of their last 6 games. Add this game to that as the Express clearly dominated the Mixers in the rebounding battle. Looking at the numbers:
The Mixers were totally outworked in the rebounding department in this game most especially in the offensive end. 8 players of Air 21 were able to get at least an offensive rebound in this game while only 4 players were able to do it for the Mixers. The Mixers failed to collar defensive boards that resulted into multiple possessions for the Express. This resulted into more field goal attempts for Air 21 (104 compared to the Mixers’ 66) and more 2nd chance points (25 compared to the Mixers’ 9) as well.
San Mig actually did a pretty decent job of keeping Taulava and Sutton from grabbing rebounds as they only tallied 12 and 13 rebounds a piece (below their average of 14.0 and 14.5 rebounds respectively). But the Mixers failed to keep the other guys of the Express away from the paint, resulting into this rebounding disparity. Aldrech Ramos and Eric Camson were key contributors for Air 21 with 9 and 8 rebounds respectively.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN: MIXERS’ DEFENSE
The Mixers’ defense in this game was quite inconsistent and sometimes, nowhere to be found. They were lucky to have escaped with this win after giving up a 36-point fourth quarter to the Express. Their defense wasn’t able to contain the usual suspects for Air 21 in Sutton and Taulava who finished with 22 and 21 points respectively.
Another guy they failed to contain especially in that 4th-quarter run was Joseph Yeo who finished the game with his conference-high 20 points (50 percent eFG) and was the one responsible for that game-tying three-pointer that sent the game to overtime.
The Mixers seemed to be out of their element defensively in this game as they gave up more than a hundred points. Adjustments should be made on their part in this aspect for their next game and they can’t afford to just be lucky as they will be facing an efficient offensive machine in Talk N’ Text.
BLAKELY SAVES THE DAY
But despite giving up a lot of points and rebounds to the Express, the Mixers were able to gut out this win thanks to contributions from the Big 3: Marc Pingris (14 points, 10 rebounds), PJ Simon (17 points 60 percent eFG), and James Yap (9 points, all in the third). Also, the bench players were able to chip in the much-needed scoring punch as well. Allein Maliksi came off the bench and fired 11 points (3 three-pointers) and Justin Melton contributed 9 points in only 8 minutes of action. But this production was only felt first three quarters and seemed to have faded in the crucial moments of the game. Luckily for San Mig, during that rally by Air 21 and in the crucial moments of the fourth and in overtime, one man simply refused to lose and carried the Mixers to victory: Marqus Blakely. “Mr. Everything” was sensational as he finished with a game-high 36 points and 17 rebounds and added personal conference-high numbers of 7 assists and 7 monster blocks as well. His aggressiveness and energy was simply too much to handle for the Express both on offense and on defense. The Black Sakuragi centered his attack inside the shaded area resulting into fouls for the Express and free throws for him. He made Air 21 pay for it by sinking 22 of 31 (71 percent) free throws in the game.
However, the Mixers must not be accustomed to Blakely taking over in crucial stretches of the game like this. James Yap, PJ Simon, Marc Pingris, Joe Devance, and Mark Barroca must be there to help Marqus out with the scoring load because once he gets defended well by the opposing team and they’re not there, that would mean trouble for the Mixers.
It was an ugly win but as they say, a win is a win. This win was a huge one for the Mixers as it secured them a playoff spot and propelled them to solo 2nd in the team standings. The Mixers should be able to learn from this game and be able correct their mistakes as they enter a tough 2-game stretch to end the eliminations. They will be facing a difficult task ahead in their next game as they go up against the Talk N’ Text Tropang Texters in a rematch of last conference’s Finals.