It’s Game 2 of the Finals. A lot of the talk has been focused primarily on how these two teams aren’t unlike anything we’ve seen in the Finals (apparently). I mean, they are still playing with 10 players on the court and a round, orange ball correct?
So let’s focus on the real basketball talk here — you know, the action that actually happens on the court. In my pregame for Game 1, I focused on three things:
1. Who works the pick better?
2. Who wins the rebounding battle on the defensive side of FEU/offensive side of NU?
3. Who wants it more?
I definitely CANNOT answer #3 — that’s for you my readers to decide. But in my own honest opinion, I think both teams played their hearts out and both were hungry to win the game. FEU was just more experienced and knew how to weather he storm that NU brought, while NU — feeling the butterflies of their debut performance in the Finals — never had enough juice and enough tries to weather the early FEU attack.
FEU, however, did work the pick better. FEU was really persistent getting the matchups they want. They ran handoff after handoff and running multiple screens to get good shots. NU did well executing their conservative approach of dropping low in early in the clock. But FEU’s crisp ball movement allowed them to get a second and a third screening action on the opposite side that forced NU to switch some matchups just to keep pace. The result was NU giving up matchups they normally don’t want. This was no more evident in Coach Nash’s ballsy move to set Belo up against Aroga for the go-ahead lay-up.
Rebounding wise, NU won the battle handily — it was practically the only thing keeping them in the game (this allowed them to get easy baskets on the break OR shots against a scrambling FEU defense that lost the rebound. Both of which earned them a serious number of free throws). NU rebounded about 34 percent of their misses and about 70 percent of FEU’s misses. (vs 30 and 65 for FEU).
Additionally, the pace of the game favored FEU — 79.4 possessions per 40 minutes. 94.5 points per 100 possession against a team that normally allows 78? That’s a big loss for a proud defensive team like NU.
Here are my thoughts for Game 2:
1. How will NU remedy FEU’s constant dribble handoffs?
FEU’s constant dribble handoffs confused the heck out of a very disciplined NU defense. Although the rotations were crisp, NU was not able to impose their will on the opponent. FEU was getting shots they wanted, especially on that second/third action. NU wanted to drop low consistently on each and every one of those handoffs, allowing Aroga to intimidate hard drives and make players hesitate. But FEU was patient and just kept kicking it out to the other side, re-engaging a second screen and generally just being persistent about attacking NU’s screen defense.
It’ll be interesting to see how NU remedies this. Will they revert to a safer switching scheme to discourage these constant handoffs? Or will they trap and make those kick out passes harder to pull of? Doing the first one is a safer bet, but it also falls right into the hands of what FEU wants — FEU wants mismatches. They have a quick guards (Tolomia and Inigo) and forwards who can dribble (Pogoy, Belo) so if they get the favorable matchup — a small on a big or vice versa, it’ll be a safe bet they’ll exploit that matchup. If they however go with hard traps (which is NOT in NU’s DNA, BTW), they can leverage the long arms and generate easy looks on the break. However — trapping works if you can disrupt and rattle players. FEU’s players aren’t really that easy to rattle on traps — their ability to break the press, make the extra pass and work the offense around is proof of that.
The answer will probably be: they’ll do the same thing as they’ve always done — drop low when they can, switch when they can no longer drop low. I think the major switch in defensive tactic will lie on how they help off mismatches. They usually allow one-on-one matchups, preferring to keep their defense intact. But with the way FEU got good looks out of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried hard trapping to allow their defense to reset when the switch happens. Teams have done it before and NU has the chemistry to pull of the rotations necessary to keep the defense afloat IF the trap doesn’t work. This is important because…
2. Can FEU continue to shoot well from deep?
FEU made 6 out of their 18 3PT attempts. That’s one-third, about 4 percent above league average and a full 10 percent above NU’s season average (23.4 percent 3PT% allowed). That’s a huge key for FEU. They hit those shots and the fluidity of their offense just .. flows. It’s simple really. If FEU hits three-point shots, NU defenders will be one step closer to their defender and a step farther from the hoop, which will open up more options for FEU’s initial dribble drive action. This is true for all teams (3PT shots = more fluid offense) but I think FEU benefits more from this exchange than any team in the league.
If NU can neutralize this (of course in conjunction with neutralizing the constant dribble handoffs), NU will be winning a MAJOR battle in this war for UAAP supremacy.
3. Who controls the pace?
Pace was an important factor in Game 1 — FEU got 14 fast break points (out of 8 attempts) in a high paced game that suits FEU’s game more than NU’s. Luckily for NU, they were able to regain some of their composure when the game slowed down in the dying minutes of the game. FEU likes to play fast (79.5 possessions per 40 minutes in the elimination rounds) and NU likes to play slow (72.6 possessions per 40 minutes). Whoever gets to impose their pace on the game gains a huge advantage. Some of you may be having that “DOH” moment with me — of course that’s true.
But here’s a little tidbit from me: I think an important part of imposing your pace is getting that first few baskets right, regardless of who gets possession. If FEU gets the ball, it’s imperative for them to get their dribble drive offense early and running. If FEU can score quickly, NU will have a hard time imposing their pace because for as “average” as FEU’s defense is, NU’s offense really isn’t all that good too. And the one saving grace of NU’s offense is their ability to grab offensive rebounds — which FEU can work against.
If NU gets the ball, they’ll need to score on that first basket as well (doesn’t matter if it’s early in the clock or not). Getting that first few baskets right for NU isn’t really about their offense (although it would help). It’s about their defense. A made basket on their side means they can set up better on defense on the other side. Get the matchups right, get the spacing and the game plan right. They miss those first few baskets and they’ll find themselves in a running game with FEU — which they won’t win.
NU, with the jitters out of the way, will lockdown and get this one right. Good early defense that sets the tone of the game (which is a slow, grind it out game).
I am sticking with my prediction: NU wins Game 2.