It’s week 2 of the young PBA season and the Philippine Cup champs Talk ‘N Text are still without a win. Tomorrow, they try to win one against Air 21 — a team that just came from a really ugly game against Barangay Ginebra.
Talk ‘N Text was a pain in the eyes to watch last time out. Air21 looks to be a team that builds its identity around its defense. With no dependable creator, this is a sound strategy. Against Ginebra, Air21 allowed just 70 points on approximately 82 possessions for a defensive rating of 85 points/100-possession. There goal? Slow the game down, lessen the number of possessions, which means lesser opportunities for the other opponent to outscore us which means higher chance of winning. Simple. People like to call it “dirtying the game up”. I like to call it strategy. Against a team that has a slew of formidable scorers — both in transition and in a half court setting, Air 21’s strategy will be put to the test.
For Talk ‘N Text, it’s all about execution and communication. Last time out, they ran into each other too much — probably because of the lack of practice time. This forced them to kick the ball out for resets or to hoists terrible shots. The discombobulated state of the TNT offense produced at a terrible rate — 92.74 points/100-possession to be exact. Their defense was also lacking — allowing Meralco to have an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 50.6%. Not a good start to the season.
What will be the keys to the game?
1.) Long Distance Shooting — Talk ‘N Text was among the leader in points per shot from the 3PT line last season — scoring 1.03 points per shot, trailing only Alaska’s 1.06 point per shot from downtown. Against Meralco, TNT was hoisting 3PT shots at a rate similar to last conference (27 attempts vs Meralco, averaged 24 attempts last conference). They didn’t make it at the same rate, making just 8 of those 3 PT attempts. Key among TNT’s shooters is Larry Fonacier and Ranidel De Ocampo — they need to take smarter shots and take what the defense gives. With Jimmy Alapag and (probably) Castro creating for the team, Fonacier and Ranidel will surely have their opportunities, they just need to grab them by the balls.
2.) Better Ball Movement — Talk ‘N Text took some pretty horrible shots particularly because their offense lacked flow – too many isolations, not to much misdirection, drive-and-kick and movement. In total, TNT had 16 assists on 81 field goal attempts. Yeesh. That would have ranked dead last (and by a huge margin) last conference. The team and the coaching staff must make it a priority to make the ball move from one side of the court to the other side. Ball reversal is an important skill that a team needs to attack any defensive stronghold. It will be up to Jimmy Alapag to organize his troops.
3.) Defense — Talk ‘N Text was among the best defensive teams last year — allowing just 95.73 points/100-possession last year good for 3rd best in the league. With the addition of Keith Benson — who’s long, athletic and has really good defensive instincts — it’s not farfetched that their defense would see a slight uptick. So far, it hasn’t materialized. The team — particularly Keith Benson — must communicate better on the court. Air 21 isn’t the best offensive team, but with Wilson, Cortez, KG and Custodio can explode if allowed to be comfortable. TNT must not allow that to happen. Funnel the drives to Benson’s waiting arms, pressure the ball handler, contest shots. All of these will be important to TNT’s bid for a victory.