A wide open three-pointer by Joe Devance opened up the scoring for the STAR Hotshots in this game. With a jab step to fake out his defenders, JDV found himself wide open at the left wing. Bang! 3-0 in favor of the Hotshots. Unfortunately for Barako Bull, this would be just the first of the many three-point bombs that STAR would unleash in this game.
The STAR Hotshots prepared for a war and the three-point shot was their chosen weapon. As mentioned in the pre-game primer for this game, in the previous wins of the Hotshots this conference, they never shot below 35% from the outside. If they will be able to shoot like this against Barako, it will be an easy game for them — and yes, it was. With this weapon at their disposal, they easily beat Barako (dealing them their fourth straight loss) by 28 points, 117-89.
This conference, the three-point shot hasn’t really been clicking for STAR. Before this one, they never had a game wherein they made 10 or more threes in a game. Also, they never had a game wherein they attempted more than 20 shots from the outside. They even had a game wherein they were an atrocious 1 of 13 (7.7% – against GBP) and another game shooting 3 of 17 (17.6% – against ROS) from beyond the arc. A large factor for this has been the conference-long struggle of two of their gunners in James Yap and PJ Simon.
However, these struggles were like a thing of the past in this game against Barako Bull as the Hotshots shot a conference-high 44.4% from the three-point line — sinking 16 of 36 attempts (both their highest this conference). James Yap and PJ Simon led the way shooting 3 of 5 and 3 of 3 from the outside respectively. James Yap had a good shooting day after struggling against TNT in their last game. It was mentioned by Coach Tim Cone in an interview that he wasn’t surprised that James shot the ball well as he was sinking these shots in practice. Yap had his way against Barako’s defense sinking threes and jump shots via hand-offs. As for PJ Simon, it’s a great sign for the Hotshots coming into the playoffs as he’s regained his form in their past two games. PJ is back to his usual super-sub role providing instant offense off the bench. It was somewhat of a breakthrough performance for him as he finally hit a three-point shot this conference (really couldn’t believe this one); not to mention he didn’t miss a single one in this game. Hopefully, these two can be consistent for STAR moving forward. As we can see in this game, if STAR’s Batman and Robin are clicking, they are a hard team to stop.
STAR came into this game with a game plan. Yes, their three-point shooting was a factor in this win; but it wasn’t like they shot the lights. In fact, they did miss 20 shots from the outside. With that, they had another weapon they unleashed against Barako: Team Rebounding.
You would expect Barako to dominate the boards because they have McMorrow on their side but STAR was able to counter the import’s height and heft with team rebounding. Although there wasn’t a player from STAR that collared double figures in terms of rebounds, as a team, 11 players had at least a rebound in this game. On the other hand, for Barako, only six players were able to contribute rebounds and McMorrow was limited to only 12 boards, thanks to Coach Tim’s designated bruisers, Mick Pennisi, Rafi Reavis, and Yousef Taha.
STAR was able to translate this rebounding edge into an advantage in terms of second chance points (24-5). With multiple possessions, STAR was able to wear down Barako’s defense that led into easy shots for them.
Of course, Marqus Blakely‘s energy was huge for the Hotshots. Early in the game, together with Alex Mallari, they pushed the ball in transition. When Barako’s defense wasn’t set yet and McMorrow was still sprinting down on defense, Blakely just attacked and sliced through the lane for easy lay-ups and at times, a trip to the charity stripe. Barako wasn’t able to do a good job of defending Blakely in transition. For a player like Blakely, the key is to stop him and make him give up the ball before he crosses the half court line because he has the skills to evade defenders and go all the way to the hoop. He is that special kind of player and Barako was able to experience it first hand. Blakely finished the game with 33 points (12/18 FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks.
It was a huge momentum boost for the Hotshots as they only have one game left before the playoffs. And with this win, the chances of them grabbing one of the top four spots got even better. The results of the other remaining games will still matter but they put themselves in a better position with this win. More importantly, I think STAR is slowly peaking right now; and what a time for it to come.
Featured Image Credit: Zeke Alonzo, Tie Breaker Times (Edited by: MI.NI Graphics and Design)