After multiple trades and drama within the team, the TNT KaTropa is finally back in title contention once more. To finish as the top seed in the elimination round is one thing, but to make it to the grandest stage of them all is another. One more question needs answering moving forward: Can they finally finish the job and hoist a championship once more?
From surviving a scare versus the eighth-seeded Alaska Aces, the KaTropa figured things out and dominated the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel by beating them in four games. For once, the seemingly untouchable Justin Brownlee looked human as he was matched up versus Terrence Jones, while the KaTropa rode the brilliance of their import by putting on an offensive masterpiece all series long.
What they can take advantage of
If there’s a place they can start, well, their import is a pretty damn good player to lean on.
There really isn’t any one guy who you can send to stop Terrence Jones. There’s a reason why Jones enjoyed a long career in the NBA while putting up numbers that were certainly respectable. More than just being such a skilled player who can slide between multiple positions, it’s really the athleticism of Jones that’s popped out in his stint in the PBA. His blend of size, speed, and power is practically unheard of this decade. He’s a freight train in every sense of the word, where even trying to take a charge when he’s at full speed should probably warrant the defender a Medal of Valor.
But using Jones as an advantage doesn’t mean milking his talent and making him carry the team towards victory. It isn’t about Jones carrying the KaTropa. It’s about Jones being the centerpiece of what’s made TNT so deadly all conference long; the blend of their ball-movement and three-point shooting.
Others have went as far as to compare the KaTropa to the Houston Rockets because of their penchant for shooting threes and distate for mid-range jumpers. It’s a fair comparison, and interestingly enough, Jones hasn’t actually been the main ball-handler of TNT’s action within their offense. TNT’s biggest advantage has been the luxury of allowing Jones to be their roll man in PnR actions and using the gravity between Jones and Castro to free up cutters across the baseline and shooters along the wing. They’ve always needed that second option to make life easier for Jayson Castro. It didn’t have to be someone SUPREMELY good. But if Terrence freaking Jones is available, you get him right?
Jones has been the perfect fit for their team as an import. Just having him be that final piece to an otherwise solid machine, is such an advantage already. It feels unfair for others, but a team like TNT will do at anything just so they can attain championship glory again.
What to guard against
Well, it’s also going to start with one guy; that Junemar Fajardo player is a big problem for TNT.
If their Game 1 clash and past battles are to consider, the five-time MVP will still be wreaking havoc against TNT’s front line. Just because Jones is big doesn’t mean he’s a plus defender. Junemar is pretty damn heavy to handle and has ample skill to boot as well. Junemar will be getting his numbers versus TNT. At this point, it’s as inevitable as death and taxes.
But what makes SMB dangerous is how they anchor themselves around Junemar’s creation. One thing that’s particularly dangerous is how Chris McCullough uses that gravity Junemar gets in the post. In Game 1, SMB still ran action centered around McCullough getting the ball. It’s understandable because that’s how they operated versus Rain or Shine and it worked then. Versus TNT, however, it won’t. To expect Coach Leo to not adjust would be disrespect to his greatness.
So TNT needs to guard against the inevitable adjustments Coach Leo will make. Two days to watch film and briefly practice is a lot of time within the time frame of a Finals series. TNT already picked up a nice trick to try and bait McCullough: putting a smaller guy against CMac. It’s a similar trick the Houston Rockets themselves utilized against the Golden State Warriors the last two years by baiting the Warriors into spamming Durant, thus breaking GSW’s flow. TNT can embrace the same principle. You don’t have to kill the anchor, because you can’t. Focus on killing the flow, so you can kill the entire machine that’s blocking your way against a championship.
Matchups to watch
Don Trollano and Troy Rosario versus the Beermen frontline
Here’s an interesting fact: TNT outrebounded SMB on the offensive boards by four, grabbing 18 against SMB’s 14. This isn’t some anomaly. Even last series, they outrebounded Ginebra despite lacking in size. As they say, size is not everything. They make up for it with grit and smarts, and Don Trollano and Troy Rosario have embraced that to the brim.
It will be interesting to see how SMB adjusts to the two combo forwards of TNT, while also checking out whether Trollano and Rosario are able to keep their production at the same level when games get tight. Weirdly enough, these two forwards may tip the scales to the side of TNT rather than their stars in Castro and Jones.
Terrence Jones vs. Kelly Nabong
There have already been a few skirmishes in this series and we’ve only had one game. This will be a long series. Both of these teams will start to grow tired of each other and tempers will inevitably flare. It won’t be out of mind if SMB throws Kelly Nabong at Terrence Jones to try and get the former Rocket out of focus so TNT’s offense discombobulates. The KaTropa veterans need to keep Jones in check if they want to win this championship.
TNT KaTropa vs. relying too much on the three-point shot
While the 15/38 shooting of TNT feels sustainable considering their numbers during the elimination round, there will probably be a game where the KaTropa starts to shoot blanks and doesn’t adjust accordingly. This is where smart attacking and commitment to the system will come in place. A good offensive system isn’t just built to go for one shot. You can go for cuts, kick-outs, among other moves. TNT has talented players. They shouldn’t rely on the three-point shot alone.
Why you should believe in the TNT KaTropa
Because for once, the San Miguel Beermen are the underdogs in the Finals, something eight other teams can’t say when they faced SMB at this stage of a conference.
SMB being underdogs isn’t just a case of their old age. It’s also a case of the KaTropa finding a perfect blend of what makes their team work and pouncing on that all conference long. There is nothing wrong with having a superior import. It’s part of the allure and mystery that comes with choosing a reinforcement; finding out whether this piece fits with your current parts already. TNT’s found that. They’ve established themselves as title favorites as a result.
It won’t be easy for TNT. SMB, while starting to show cracks in its armor, is still a talented and experienced team. But if TNT is able to hold on and commit themselves to what’s made them good, then it isn’t out of the question to finally see the proud MVP franchise holding a PBA championship trophy by the end of this conference.