How Barangay Ginebra can rescue their PBA season
MANILA, Philippines - Before Barangay Ginebra and Talk 'N Text's playoff game on Tuesday, December 16, a friend of mine asked whom I thought would win. The response came out right away, close to how quick Larry Fonacier's release from downtown is:
He looked at me for a while, likely expecting an answer different from what I uttered. So he asked me again, and I gave the same answer.
Ginebra was coming off a dominant, one-sided victory over a GlobalPort team that had dangerous weapons in Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle. The two future PBA superstars exploded, each scoring at least 20 points, but were easily discarded by a Ginebra team that looked as dominant as ever.
To be fair, the Tropang Texters also entered the match coming off a blowout win, only they had defeated a squad in Barako Bull that is more a farm team right now than they are an actual PBA franchise.
Ginebra had clear advantages against Talk 'N Text. Their big man Greg Slaughter stands at 7-foot-1, at least a few inches taller than Rob Reyes, the Tropang Texters' starting center. Japeth Aguilar is close to seven feet and can jump off the roof. Harvey Carey, 6-foot-4, was supposed to guard him.
But I knew Ginebra wasn't going to dump the ball inside to their big guys. Instead, they were going to run their Triangle Offense, go run-and-gun a few plays, and rely instead on the scoring of perimeter players LA Tenorio, Joseph Yeo, and Mark Caguioa. They would quicken the pace of the game, playing right into the hands of Coach Jong Uichico and his Tropang Texters, and lose.
In the end, Talk 'N Text won rather easily, 83-67, due to a strong second half and their opponents' questionable decision making on offense.
Talk ’N Text is now on their way to the semis to take on the league-leading San Miguel Beermen, whom they defeated, 107-101, on December 5. Ginebra is now off to another early break in between conferences, with maybe a trip to Boracay on the horizon.
Height is might
What hurts for Ginebra fans is that they should have won this game. You can't teach height, and in basketball, height is might, regardless of how much the game is changing in the modern age. Ginebra has the most talented frontcourt in the league, along with the complementary shooters to surround those two national team-caliber big men.
So when you look at the box score, why did Slaughter take just 12 shots and Aguilar 10 while Yeo, Caguioa, and Tenorio took 14, 12, and 11, respectively? There's something to be said about balance scoring opportunities, but when Ginebra had such a clear advantage up front, why did their big men not get at least 15 to 16 shots each?
Slaughter and Aguilar each struggled, making just a combined six field goals. But it took too long for the offense to get them going. That especially hurts Slaughter, who has a tendency to go through the motions of a match when not involved early. Instead, Ginebra ran pick and rolls, upped the tempo of the contest, and had their wing players take a number of 3-pointers. It worked for a while as they tied TNT at the half, 40-40, but it came back to haunt them once the Texters re-discovered their offense in the final two quarters.
Ginebra's 15 turnovers played one of the biggest roles in their demise as well. You can't give a team like Talk 'N Text 11 easy points off your miscues while you put up just four. But TNT struggled from the field, going 42% from the field and an uncharacteristic 3-of-25 from downtown. Jeff Cariaso and his boys' defense played good enough to establish a significant lead before their opponents' second-half surge, but they didn't, and it came back to haunt them.
Here's the biggest surprise from the stat sheet: TNT won the battle in the paint by outscoring Ginebra in the shaded area, 48-32. If that wasn't bad enough, the team also had more second chance points, 10-8. Those are two areas Slaughter and Aguilar should have easily won for their team.
The Triangle Offense promotes balanced scoring chances, even if most of those produce the least efficient shot in basketball: the mid-range jumper. Ginebra has far from perfected the method, which helped San Mig Coffee win four straight PBA titles, and it might be unfair to judge the team until they perfect the system, considering Cariaso has been at the helm for only two conferences.
But SMC (now Purefoods) never had the two talented bigs Ginebra does. Is it time for Coach Cariaso to slow the tempo of his team's games and make the offense more post-oriented?
For example, one of the plays the team should experiment more with is high to low post passes between Aguilar and Slaughter, such as the one Marc Gasol gives to Zach Randolph here, leading to an easy bucket:
Here are a number of high-low post play passes between the Indiana Pacers' David West and Roy Hibbert that work tremendously:
Aguilar can play the role of West near the FT line while Slaughter forays into the paint for quick and effective scoring opportunities. And if Aguilar's man goes to help on Slaughter, that leaves Japeth open for jumpers which he has proven in the past that he can convert.
Doing this will be more tricky in the Commissioner's Cup and Governors' Cup conference, where imports as tall as Slaughter will be harder to pin down compared to locals. But if Aguilar converts this pass quick enough before the defense is set. especially on the break, it could lead to an easy layup for Slaughter, or at the least help him draw a shooting foul.
When the post player is double teamed, that leaves openings for guys like Yeo, Tenorio, Caguioa, Chris Ellis, Mac Bacarael, and others to take open 3-pointers or cut to the rim for easy layups, such as how Mike Conley breezes to the rim at ease here:
These kinds of shots are easier than pulling up for a jumper or trying to convert a floater in traffic, which Ginebra's guards took a lot of this past conference.
But not all the blame falls on the side of Slaughter and Aguilar. Both should also be active when they aren't involved in some offensive plays by crashing the offensive boards - especially Slaughter. In total, Ginebra missed 59 shots against TNT on Tuesday. Aguilar had 7 offensive rebounds while Slaughter grabbed just 2. That digit should be much higher.
Tenorio is a slick operator capable of scoring on drives or finding open teammates during pick-and-roll situations. It's unavoidable that there will be some scenarios where he'll find Baracael or Yeo open early in the shot clock, and he will get them the basketball for a jumper. Sometimes, he'll take the shot himself, especially if the help defense of the opponent is forced to scramble out of position once Tenorio blows past his initial defender.
When either of the two happen, Ginebra's big men must crash the boards against smaller frontlines, such as how Hibbert does here, which helped torment the Miami Heat's defense in the 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Finals:
During that series, Miami, which had LeBron James, clearly possessed more talent. But the Pacers pushed the matchup to seven games and nearly advanced to the NBA Finals because they had a clear advantage in the paint, and took full control of it.
To really maximize Ginebra's potential, Coach Cariaso needs to have the ball dumped in the post more. After which, the floodgates will be open as the team's shooters will rain down open 3-pointers. Height is might in basketball, and that's the mantra Ginebra needs to live by to win their first ring since 2008. - Rappler.com