MANILA, February 1, 2006
(MALAYA) BY NOLI CORTEZ - Games Today (Araneta Coliseum) 4:40 p.m. – Air21 vs. Purefoods 7:35 p.m. – Red Bull vs. Ginebra

BEING on the threshold of a cherished dream does not guarantee anything.

This explains why coach Ryan Gregorio, whose Purefoods Chunkee team guns for the first final slot today against Air21 in the San Mig Coffee-PBA Fiesta Conference at the Araneta Coliseum, refuses to count out the Express.

"It ain’t over until we get four wins so there’s no reason to celebrate," he said, echoing what is also in the mind of Red Bull counterpart Yeng Guiao whose team is also holds a 3-1 lead over Ginebra 3-1 in their own best-of-seven semifinals showdown.

Unlike the Bulls, whose import James Penny was slapped a one-game suspension and a P5,000 fine for incurring two technical fouls in Game Four last Sunday, the Giants have a clear shot at the coveted slot, primarily because import Marquin Chandler will be there.

Yet Gregorio remains wary.

"We’ll try to stay focused (in Game 5), the best we can be. We will not celebrate yet. We’ll only do that once we’re able to finish this," he said after his team’s 100-90 win in Game 4 last Sunday.

Gregorio’s main concern is the fact that despite losing the first two games of the series the Express never lost heart and battled back via a cruising 101-87 win last Friday. In that game, Ren-Ren Ritualo shot a career-high 40 points and got plenty of all-around help.

For its part, Purefoods fared miserably on both ends of the floor, shooting 41 percent (36-of-86) from the field. Curiously, the Giants shot better from three-point range (10-of-20) than from the two-point area (39 percent.

Being drawn into an offensive battle anew is not one of Gregorio’s plans.

"We cannot challenge Air21 to a shooting contest. We have to make the stops," he said. "We expect them (Express) to bounce back again, but this time we’ll be ready."

The Purefoods-Air21 series has turned into a veritable war of attrition, with both teams trying to get into the minds of the other, resulting into a variety of hard fouls and technical fouls.

Gregorio would not have none of that, too.

"I don’t mind physical basketball, I don’t mind the hard fouls. But there are rules that should be followed," he said. "It’s nothing personal. I know it’s not coming from the coaches, so it’s just something we have to be ready for."

Chandler remains the focus of Air21’s defense despite the fact that he was limited to just 10 points last Sunday. Good thing a trio of Giants locals stepped up.

Noy Castillo dished out his most explosive performance in three years with 24 points, Marc Pingris wound up with a career-high 23 points and with 15 rebounds while Kerby Raymundo had another solid output with 24 points.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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