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Air21 rolls past Rain or Shine, 103-96

Games Today (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
5:45 p.m. – Meralco vs Talk ‘N Text
8 p.m. – San Mig Super Coffee vs Barako Bull

As Asi Taulava continues to turn back the hands of time, Air21 keeps rolling forward.

Yet by his own reckoning, it could actually be a good idea for the 41-year-old Taulava to go easy on cheeseburgers.

Dominique Sutton had 25 points and 10 rebounds while Taulava added 19 and 14 as the Express, who dragged last conference champion San Mig Super Coffee to a deciding Game 5 in their semifinal series before fading, downed Rain or Shine, 103-96, last night in the PBA-PLDT Home Telpad Governors Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

It was Air21’s first victory over Rain or Shine since joining the league as Shopinas.com in the 2011-12 season.

The lead was 17 points for Air21 at one point in the third quarter before Rain or Shine came back to within 97-91 on an Arizona Reid layup. The Elasto Painters got back possession after a 24-second violation nullified an Aldrech Ramos basket with 61 seconds remaining.

But Jeff Chan went airball on a 3-point shot that was contested by Taulava and Sutton, who arrived just Thursday and was visibly spent after scoring 19 in the first half, brushed off the defense with a driving layup that made it 99-91.

“We’re treating each game as a playoff,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren. “Unlike last conference where we were happy just to compete, we want to prove now that our semifinal finish was no flash in the pan. We want to establish ourselves as serious contenders.”

The Express ousted twice-to-beat San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinal playoffs of the Commissioner’s Cup and then went toe-to-toe with the Mixers in the best-of-5 semis.

“We want to build up momentum from last conference,” said Taulava, who gave Talk ‘N Text’s Jayson Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo a run for their money in the Best Player of the Conference voting. “We don’t want to let our fans down or have them doubt that last time was a fluke.”

But even Taulava, who prides himself with possessing bulging deltoid muscles despite his advanced age, knows only how far he can compete.

Against the muscular 240-pound Sutton, whose shoulders and arms are built like granite fit for an NFL blocker, Taulava flinches.

“Did you see the muscles of that guy?” he said. “Standing beside Dominique, I feel I have to go to the weight room and work out some more. I feel like I’ve eaten too many cheeseburgers.”