Last Sunday, Rain or Shine evened this semis matchup to one game a piece. This game was won and lost in the second, when Alaska allowed their 4-point lead entering the second to vanish and then promptly allowed Rain or Shine to build a 12-point lead entering the second half. Things weren’t any better at the start of the second half, when Rain or Shine built a 24-point lead (or somewhere around that vicinity). At that point, everybody (including me) expected the second coming of the #RedWedding. But it wasn’t. Instead, Alaska dug deep and cut this lead to 18. They continued to dig deep until Paul Lee wouldn’t allow them.
Individual Offensive Rating
This game was a game played on Alaska’s speed — 90.1 possessions per 48 is a slow game. Even with all the offensive rebounds (which tends to push the number of game possessions down), this game featured just 6 and 4 fastbreak attempts for Rain or Shine and Alaska, respectively.
What really killed Alaska was their inability to stop fouling. This has been a season long problem that’s exacerbated by the fact that they’re playing against Rain or Shine, a team that knows how to draw free throws. This game, Rain or Shine had 27 free throw makes (on 37 free throw attempts) while taking just 69 attempts good for a ratio of 39.1 percent. That’s an unacceptable number considering Alaska didn’t do so well at defending those 69 attempts as well (52.2 percent eFG). Key to all of this is Paul Lee and Arizona just doing work on the pick and roll/pop. Paul Lee (99.1 percent TS, 20.2 percent USG) and Reid (67 percent TS, 28.9 percent USG) just tormented the Alaska defense whenever it could.
For their part, Alaska has gone with a new defensive approach, one that’s allowed them to rattle the Rain or Shine offense and get them back a small chance in this series. They’ve dialed down their hedging and instead are switching more often than they did. It worked in Game 1, netting them a win. But Rain or Shine was quick to adjust and their players quick to learn. It was also a big problem in Game 2 because Alaska didn’t show the same focus to execute a game plan they aren’t really familiar with. Two many times you’d see one player thinking it was a switch and another thinking it isn’t (by staying to his man) compromising the entire structure of their defense. Jeff Chan, in particular, feasted on these opportunities scoring 18 points (106.5 points per 100) on just 13 shots.
What does Alaska need to do for the next game?
1. I think first and foremost is to not get into the psychological warfare that Yeng Guiao is known for. As a personal note, I hate it. I absolutely hate it when basketball becomes about making the other team lose instead of making your team win. When Alaska was frustrated, they played fast, they played reckless and they played like their butts were on fire. When they’re calm and collected, they run their sets well, they shoot with confidence and they play well. That’s a lot of words for a simple concept: bawal ang mapikon. It’s really the first thing that has to happen for Alaska to get a chance.
2. What do they do with Lee? Paul Lee has been scorching hot this series, bombing 8 of his 11 3-point attempts so far this series. Overall, he’s producing 135 points per 100. He’s been playing so well that people will find it hard to believe how in the world will Alaska stop him. Personally, I’d re-shuffle who faces who.
I’d try to put Abueva on Lee (enough quickness to keep up, enough length to challenge and a bulldog’s mentality), then shift Hontiveros to the other wing guy. I’d be very specific to my players on how to attack Paul Lee’s ball screens (“we always trap him”) and I’d maybe add something to his food that’ll get Lee stuck in the comfort room for the game. HAHAHA
3. What about Reid? Reid is playing like his normal self — which is awesome. He’s producing 118.6 points per 100 and his rebounding splits are 14/19/16.9 are. How do I think Alaska can stop Reid? Well, Alaska can’t. Alaska has nobody to matchup with Reid — too strong, too fast, too crafty. The best thing Alaska can do is to play solid individual defense on him and focus on everybody. I’d rather Reid get 48+ points and then everybody else scores just 30+ points total.
4. Work on the switching scheme. A lot of Alaska’s fouls were due to laziness but a lot of them were also due to miscommunications/lack of practice. One person thought it was a switch, the other thought it wasn’t. This compromised the defense and opened up someone who didn’t have a choice but to foul.
Alaska won Game 1 partially because Rain or Shine only had 19 free throw attempts. Their defense was still awful (110.5 points per 100) but the fouling just didn’t allow Alaska to get into much of a rhythm.
5. Alaska has to absolutely work on their defense. Once they do, their offense will come. They’re a “our defense fuels our offense” kinda of a team. Not the one where they depend on turnovers and easy baskets on the break. Rather, they’re a team that builds on the rhythm they build off their defense. In two games, Alaska has allowed Rain or Shine to score 110.4 points per 100. That’s really bad. They can’t prevent Rain or Shine from shooting well from deep (39.3 percent on 28 attempts per game) and that’s because their defense on ball screen is just bad. I don’t know if it’s salvageable but I hope it is. Alaska has to win two of the next three games to advance to to the PBA Finals.
6. Their offense needs minor tweaking, particularly how they involve Sonny Thoss. I love Sonny Thoss when he’s catching and finishing and when he’s catching and shooting. I’m neutral on his postups — when he’s on, he’s a player Rain or Shine has to think about. What I do not like is when he’s facing up and driving 15 feet from the basket.
It was always going to be a tough series but knowing what we know now, it went from an impossible series to a hard series. That’s a giant leap of faith on my part. I just saw an Alaska team dig deep in its well of focus and execution to make Game 2 a game late in the fourth (before Polee said enough is enough). That’s a good moral victory heading into Game 3.
I honestly hope Alaska can find a way to play good defense against this Rain or Shine pace-and-space offense. They need to have a game plan for options 1, 2 and 3 of whatever Rain or Shine will do. They have to dial in and they have to execute (for the most part). Or else, all the hardwork of Game 1 will go to waste.