Two teams that figured in a very intriguing trade just three days ago both got much-needed wins, with Air21 showing how much use Mike Cortez is for the Express right away, and Barangay Ginebra sticking with its old hands.
Cortez scored the Express’ final five points Friday night and keyed an 86-85 victory over Barako Bull, even as the Gin Kings snapped a five-game slide in the PBA Philippine Cup with its latest addition riding the bench at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The cat-quick Cortez finished with 24 points in 24 minutes, his longest exposure this season, after the Express gave up 6-foot-7 rookie Yousef Taha to the Kings, who didn’t see the need for him in an 81-79 decision of Globalport in the second game.
“You can’t write a better script than that,” Air21 coach Franz Pumaren said after Cortez knocked in the marginal long jumper with a shade under a minute left. “He turned things around for us. Like what I have been stressing, we have found the solution already, someone who can give us stability down the stretch.
“I want him (Cortez) to prove to himself that he is still one of the best point guards in the PBA,” Pumaren, who was Cortez’ college coach when La Salle dominated the UAAP, added. “The trade (with the Kings) will benefit both parties,” he continued. “We still have to work on our chemistry, you cannot fast track the chemistry of the team.” That trade could be beneficial for both, but it would take time before Ginebra would let anyone see how.
Mark Caguioa hit seven points in the fourth period, and Jay-Jay Helterbrand had six crucial markers in the stretch as the duo, together with Elmer Espiritu, worked hard for the Kings to negate Gary David’s explosive return to the Globalport lineup.
David scored 21 points in the fourth period, including the Batang Pier’s first 19 points inside the first 10 minutes, as he almost single handedly gifted Globalport with a win despite missing its last six games because of a knee injury.
Both the Express and the Kings improved to 3-5 in the standings, while Barako Bull dropped to 3-6 and the Batang Pier to 1-8 with a fourth straight loss.
And Ginebra coach Siot Tanquingcen was quick to point out that Taha would have to earn his spurs with the team.
“It’s going to be unfair for him (Taha) right now, with two days of practice, to put him in the fire,” Tanquingcen explained when asked why Taha didn’t even get a single minute on the floor.
“He’s in line with the direction of the team,” Tanquingcen added. “Admittedly, we have a hole in the middle, but it’s not instant. He can get accustomed (to the system) during the course of our practices.
“Taha is someone we will look to down the line. Slowly, he can somehow get there.” Caguioa finished with 19 points and LA Tenorio added 14 for the Kings, whose losing skid triggered nasty rumors about a shakeup in coaching staff, which Tanquingcen mildly hit in the post-game interview.
“We have to just keep trusting each other,” Tanquingcen said.