It’s a miracle Alaska was able to get a twice-to-beat advantage despite what I’d call a subpar season. Their offense, once their biggest asset early in the season, deteriorated because they couldn’t take care off the ball, their early dominance on the offensive glass was unsustainable and their TNT-level 3-point shooting finally came back down to earth.
In the end, Alaska finished with an offensive rating that was about average (100.5 points per 100). It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either.
On the other hand, their defense, once their biggest weakness, got better as the season pushed on. They didn’t do anything spectacular except not foul as much. Rotations were better (that’s not saying much though since their rotations early in the season were horrible) and this allowed fewer out-of-position players which subsequently led to fewer fouls and fewer free throw attempts per field goal attempt for the opponent. They’re still pretty bad at defending the 3-point line and they’ve gotten marginally worse at rebounding their opponents misses. Alaska eventually finished with a defensive rating of 102.4, which is again just about average (we’ve set before that the average is right around 100. This conference, the league average is set at 103).
All things considered, how should the average offense, average defense Aces plan on winning against Ginebra team that, true to their coaches upbringing as a disciple of Tim Cone, models the San Mig Coffee Mixers? Tough defensively, just enough offensive power to push them forward. Their defensive philosophies differ (one team prefers to create havoc from the perimeter by trapping high, the other likes to play it conservatively) but the results are the same.
Keys to the Game
Ginebra is among the best at preventing teams from dominating the 3-point battle. They rank third lowest in number of 3-point bombs allowed and they rank lowest in opponent 3-point percentages. They’re athletic and they’re aggressive on closeouts (confident that they have Slaughter/Aguilar/Mason covering them).
Meanwhile, the Aces aren’t exactly clicking offensively. They don’t draw a ton of free throws, they don’t have a single guy who can dominate either from the perimeter, from the high post or from the low block. Their primary source of points come from three-point bombs (28 percent of their points actually come from 3, highest in the league). If they can’t get their shooting game going, they’ll find it hard to defeat this Ginebra team in this next game, or the game after that.
Luckily, Ginebra doesn’t force a ton of turnovers. Because of the conservative nature of their defense, Alaska’s passing game (their main vehicle for generating points) can get going against this Ginebra team. Hopefully, they can create enough separation through swift and decisive passes to get clean 3-point looks against this athletic Ginebra team.
Set the Tone Early
For Alaska, they can’t afford to start bad. They should run their sets religiously and with purpose early. If they won’t, they’ll have a hard time climbing out of the hole that they’ll be in. Alaska knows how to finish off opponents, what they don’t know how to do is to get out of holes. So if they can just jump on their opponent early, a W won’t be too far off.
Leading or tied after 1st quarter
Leading or tied after 1st half
Leading or tied after 3rd quarter
Bring the Defense
In their their three game winning streak, Alaska allowed just 88.8 points per 100. That’s a great defensive number buoyed by their ability to force a lot of turnovers (17.3 percent). I don’t know which side of the floor feeds off the other (does Alaska use their offense to fuel their defense or vice versa). I’d like to believe it’s the offense feeding off defensive stops. When they can get defensive stops, they’re more patient in their offensive attack and in effect, commit fewer turnovers.
When they can’t, they’re antsy and fidgety. They commit a lot of turnovers over ambitious and/or half-hearted passes. They take quick shots and they eventually succumb to their inability to get out of holes (a major problem, IMO). That’s a question for another time (I don’t think a team that can’t dig deep can win a ‘chip) but for now, they have to take advantage of their twice-to-beat advantage and eliminate Ginebra swiftly.
I’m confident that if Alaska can start strong and bring their defense, the rest of their game will fall into place. Ginebra isn’t a bad matchup for them (they have Sonny Thoss to matchup against Slaughter and quick, strong bigs like Espinas and Manuel to matchup with Mason/Aguilar) nor are they the best. What I do know is that Alaska CAN win this. Whether they will depends (I think) on the story of the first half, their defense and their three point shooting.
Alaska wins this one in a nailbiter.