It was an unlikely journey. Alaska, a team that has been treading water since hoisting the championship trophy more than a year and a half ago, getting to the Finals this conference? No chance.
Not after Coach Luigi Trillo, the guy that steered them to the said trophy a year before, resigned.
Not after the rumors of an impending sale.
Not after that dreadful 50+ point drubbing from the hands of the very team they are winning against right now.
With the dominating win yesterday, Alaska has won 6 of their last 7 games since the embarrassing 50 point loss, with 2 of those win coming from the same team that gave them the whooping. This speaks highly of Coach Alex’s ability to rally his troops behind him, his team’s belief in him and the resiliency and fortitude of this team to plow through adversity.
Yesterday’s win was a perfect comeback to the Game 2 loss they experienced just two nights prior. When they would have exploded and retaliated against the obvious attempts by Rain or Shine to get into their heads, Alaska players kept mum (well, except for Baguio HAHAHA). When they would have folded behind the mountain of 3-point shots that Rain or Shine rained on them, Alaska answered with poise.
Alaska was poised and ready. How exactly? Let’s take a look.
The story of the game, again, for Alaska is their offense. 113.8 points per 100 against the third best defense in the league? Impressive.
More impressive is Alaska’s taking care of the ball. Rain or Shine is an aggressive trapping team. They forced opponents to turn the ball over on 17.5 percent of their possessions. Rain or Shine’s defense is built in the passing lanes. They don’t force a ton of misses (46.9 eFG allowed) nor do they limit opponents to just one and done chances (68.4 percent DRB%). They’re mediocre (or just above or below average) in three of the four defensive factors. What they are elite at is forcing the turnovers. They force opponents to make passes and they make them pay by running and getting easy shots in transition/secondary transition.
On the other hand, Alaska’s offense is built on … passing. SURPRISE. More than passing (which should be a core piece of any team) is their reliance on creating shots out of high density places. Additionally, while most teams bend defenses from the outside in, Alaska wants to bend it from the inside-out. It’s not necessarily an inside-out versus outside-in thing but more of an up-down versus left-right thing. All teams have up-down and left-right movements on their offenses but some offenses emphasis one over the other.
Some offenses try to get good shots by continuously changing which side is strong (the side with the ball) and which side is weak. Alaska tries to get good shots by committing inside (allowing the other team to overload) before pulling the chair and kicking it outside. Such is the nature of a team based on the low post.
Watch Alaska pass the ball to the low block, have players make a diagonal cut across the player, then execute a cross screen to a player in the middle (still inside the “restricted” half-circle i.e. inside the free throw line). From here, the middle is a high density spot on the floor on any defense. The other team will inevitably collapse on whoever that guy is. Once they do, they’ll kick it out or pass it inside.
When Alaska does decide to attack from the perimeter, they normally don’t look to puncture the defense inside. What they usually do is confuse the defense with continuous movement (here is where the side-to-side action happens). Before zipping a pass inside on a cutting player.
The problem, as I’ve said, is that Alaska’s offense is a double-edged sword — when it works, it works like a charm. They get good shots and they produce a lot of points efficiently. When it doesn’t, they either allow a live turnover or settle for their perimeter players/post players going mano-a-mano. This is why Rain or Shine’s inability to force a lot of live turnovers against an Alaska offense begging to be pickpocketed was a huge surprise this game.The ball moved beautifully (and without a hitch) from inside-out. I can remember a couple of notable passes (Dela Cruz’ bullet pass to a Espinas under the rim for an And-1, Casio pocket passing to a cutting Abueva/Walker and a lot of Hontiveros/Casio bombs in the corner.)
What does Alaska need to do to finish this series off?
Be prepared for whatever RoS will do with Lee
A series is only as good as the adjustment the losing coach makes. Alaska was torched by Lee in Game 2, consistently toying with Alaska’s hard trap system. They switched the system when dealing with Lee by switching most of the screening action involving the guy. It didn’t matter if it was a handoff or a down screen or a flare screen — Alaska more than likely switched it. It also helped a bit that Dondon covered Lee when both shared the floor (thereby reducing the need to switch since Dondon can stick to a guy like glue).
If Alaska plans to do the same thing (and I think they will since why fix something that ain’t really broke?), I reckon Coach Yeng will have Lee work the screens with specific players to generate certain mismatches. Alaska will have to be prepared for this. They’ll most likely try to create a big-on-small or small-on-big mismatch (example, Thoss switches out to Lee and Dondon switches to Belga). They have to be prepared for this inevitable mismatch. Do they double? Or do they switch off-ball (an unlikely and difficult but very effective way to counter mismatches)? Do they just change their game plan again? All the same, Alaska’s battle with Paul Lee continues.
Be ready for Rain or Shine’s drive-and-dish game
In conjunction with point 1, I think Rain or Shine’s drive-and-dish game will be in full form next game. This series, Rain or Shine is taking 30 (T-H-I-R-T-Y) 3-point attempts per game, making 36.6 percent. That’s about 1.1 points per shot. That’s INSANE.
Alaska knows it, Rain or Shine knows it. And if Alaska reacts with harder closeouts (or, more unlikely, ease up on their pack-the-paint mentality), then Rain or Shine’s drive-and-dish game will be unlocked (a part of their game that was noticeably missing in Game 3). I hope Alaska has a plan for this. Rain or Shine is one of the few teams that can comeback from a large deficit because of their shooting and their ability to score quickly.
Harder traps, Harder Screens, More Effort
A lot of Rain or Shine’s changes will be minor and purely effort. Rain or Shine was .. lazy in a few minutes in the game. In the semis, with an Alaska team that is motivated to prove its worth, that won’t just do. It’s why Alaska, despite being the ideal punching bag for Rain or Shine, has pushed Rain or Shine to the brink of elimination. Nothing pushes a team like being on the brink of elimination. Alaska has to be ready to receive all the jabs, uppercuts and power punches of a desperate Rain or Shine team. Whatever that manifests into, they should be ready. If this translates into harder, more aggressive and better focused traps? Alaska has to make the safety valve a priority. If this translates into a better shooting night (by destiny or whatever), they should be prepared to closeout.
I’ve been a huge skeptic in this series. I’m happy Alaska are up 2-1. I’d love for this series to get over. But I think Rain or Shine gets this game. I’d love to be wrong though. Also, I hope I didn’t jinx (or reverse jinx it).