SLR 106, Air21 98

On: 19 April 2010

Anthony Johnson

Sta. Lucia Realty was about to do another collapse, but Anthony Johnson would not let it.

With Johnson scoring a season-high and career-high-tying 43 points the Realtors managed to fashion a 106-98 overtime victory over the feisty Air21 Express on 18 April 2010 in the PBA Fiesta Conference at the Araneta Coliseum.

It was a stirring win for Sta. Lucia, which went into the game reeling from three straight losses and seemingly on the verge of another after squandering as much as a 60-36 second-half lead.

Johnson took over as he practically single-handedly picked up his teammates' flagging spirits by scoring all but four of his team's 15 points in the extension, while taking the fight out of the Express.

"I'm just happy AJ stepped up," said SLR coach Boyet Fernandez of Johnson, who also hauled down 13 rebounds and swatted away five shots while going a perfect 11-of-11 from the line.

The lessons learned from the game should serve his team in good stead, Fernandez added.

"Credit to Air21, they came back and even led," he noted of the team that fought back and took an 84-77 lead into the last 5:25 of regulation.

"Nabaligtad nung second half. My guys thought it's already a won ballgame despite the fact I told them we could not take Air21 for granted because they will try to come back and indeed they did."

The win jacked SLR's win-loss record to 2-4, a full game ahead of Air21's 1-5 that dropped it into the cellar in the company of idle Barako Energy Coffee.

Air21 coach Yeng Guiao said his team also learned some things from the game, both good and bad.

"The good side of this, after being behind, bringing the game into overtime and having a chance to win it," Guiao said. "The bad side, we had to be behind by 20-plus points before we started working harder."

Jason Forte had 26 points and 19 rebounds and Mike Cortez added 17 points as they led the big comeback from the deficit that made Guiao almost give up the ghost right at halftime after his team trailed by 36-58.

"After the first half, I thought it was a lost cause already," he admitted. "I just asked the guys to be decent in losing. But they worked harder and put ourselves in a situation where we can win, kaya sayang talaga."

Such thoughts were farthest from Air21’s collective mind when Cortez’s one-handed follow-up of Forte’s missed free throw beat the gameclock and pegged a 91-all count at the end of regulation.

Then Johnson took over after Cortez’s floater gave the Express a 95-93 lead. His sixth triple for the game sparked his seven straight points that made it a 100-95 count.

Forte went coast to coast and finished with an emphatic dunk and canned a charity, but Johnson’s elbow jumper and Ryan Reyes’ acrobatic up-and-under twister made it a safe 104-98 spread, only 2.5 ticks left.

Forte ultimately wound up shooting 4-of-13 from the stripe and Guiao said they will arrive at a decision either Monday or Tuesday on whether to retain him or bring in a replacement for the man who subbed for original import Keena Young.

Free throw shooting is also the bane of Kelly Williams, who missed six of eight charity tries that prevented him from putting up better numbers than 17 points and 14 rebounds.

Reyes was the lone other SLR local in double figures with 15 points, which he added with nine assists and eight rebounds.

Mainly behind Johnson Sta. Lucia made 11 of 26 three-point attempts, nine in the first half which it dominated by stopping Air21’s penetrators and pressuring the Express into making some harried shots.

Johnson already had 21 points at the half and Sta. Lucia used a torrid field shooting to steadily pull away and take the half 58-36.

The Realtors shot 22-of-42 from the floor, including 9-for-14 from beyond the arc, compared to the Express’ 13-of-39.

Air21 actually started the second period 6-0 to claw back within 24-36. Then Johnson drained back-to-back triples, adding to the Realtors’ comfort zone that enabled them to pad their lead to 56-35.

The rout was seemingly well on its way as early as the last three minutes of the first period, when Sta. Lucia used a 13-0 run to break off from a 23-18 count and start the next quarter with an 18-point spread.

Rookie Joshua Urbiztondo started that most telling of runs with a trey and added four more points while Bonbon Custodio added four and Johnson two charities. (NC)

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