After another down-to-the-wire victory, things won’t get any easier for the San Miguel Beermen as they face last conference’s runner-ups, the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters. San Miguel comes into this game with a slight disadvantage with two key players out with injury. With such a potent offense in TNT, they will have to rely on their defense (which has been a question mark so far) to get the edge in this one.
Keys to the Game
Don’t make it into a shootout
Barako shot 48.1% from the 3-point line against San Miguel’s (very lacking) perimeter defense, their highest mark so far this conference. San Miguel cannot allow the same to happen against TNT as they are currently averaging 33.8% from distance (8.3 made 3s per game), which is only a little worse than their 36.4% mark last conference. Most importantly, they cannot allow this game to devolve into a simple shootout like last time. TNT’s shooters are just too good and their defense way better (than both Barako’s and San Miguel’s) for this to happen. No team in the PBA can turn 8 point deficits into 8 point leads quicker than TNT. The Beermen’s rotations have to be crisp and they have to have their hands up to challenge at all times.
Stop their 1-2 punch
Much like San Miguel, TNT relies on their own 1-2 punch combination in Ranidel de Ocampo and Jayson Castro. Surprisingly, they both had off-games in their match against Rain or Shine as they only combined for 11 points, making none of their 9 attempts from distance and with barely any freethrows to go with it. A far cry in their first two games when they averaged the following:
Ranidel de Ocampo
Much of their damage comes from inside the arc and from the freethrow line. In separate occasions, they were able to generate nine attempts from the charity stripe, with timely three point shots sprinkled here and there. It is imperative that the defense at least slow them down. The guards will have to keep Castro in check and not allow him to drive at will. Even with his improved jumper, you’d rather have him take outside shot rather than wrecking havoc in the lane. On the other hand, it falls to Arwind Santos to try and contend with de Ocampo in the post once again. He’s had mixed results with Gabby Espinas, Arizona Reid, and Eric Wise, so it may do San Miguel well to try someone else if Santos doesn’t have a good showing early on.
With Marcio Lassiter and Chris Ross still nursing leg injuries, San Miguel’s guards must continue to step up. I’ve already talked about the production of Ronald Tubid and Chris Lutz have been giving in Lassiter’s absence, so it’s Sol Mercado who will have to prove once more than he can substantially lead this team from the point guard position (despite being more of a shooting guard in my eyes.) He has to continue to be aggressive and drive to the paint to open up opportunities for his teammates. With PG depth pretty thin, another player who has to step is Chico Lanete. Though he was barely used in the Commissioner’s Cup (in lieu of Mercado’s arrival and the coaches’ preference in playing Paolo Hubalde), he actually performed pretty well when given the chance.
2013 Gov Cup
2013-2014 PH Cup
He’s a pretty steady point guard with a reliable outside shot. He takes care of the ball as his turnover rates have constantly been one of the lowest on the team. Defensively, his smarts and quick hands have also led to a lot of steals (as reference, Ross had a STL% of 4.8% in the Philippine Cup). More importantly, he was part of a lot of Petron’s big runs that usually led to victories. He has that knack of knocking down crucial perimeter shots. If he can bring that kind of production, it will help offset the injuries.
Sol Mercado vs Jayson Castro
This would have been a perfect match up for Ross as both he and Castro come off the bench and usually finish games. Ross could have also taken advantage of both Castro and Jimmy Alapag’s shorter heights. With the injury, it now falls on Mercado’s shoulders to stop Asia’s best point guard. With his size, Mercado should be able to keep Castro out of the paint and also bully him on the offensive end. Castro’s speed will provide quite a challenge though, but Mercado (in theory), should be able to match-up against him.
Let us not forget that San Miguel will still bank on their own 1-2 power punch in the ever-efficient Reggie Williams and a (hopefully) 100% June Mar Fajardo to generate the offense. The defense will be tested and will determine if they’ll have enough to beat this team. And that is something that I think will happen, allowing San Miguel to hold on to solo 2nd.