By Karl Batungbacal
The TNT KaTropa made a strong case about their worth after handily beating the San Miguel Beermen, 109-96, in their first meeting in a 7-game series. With the way that the KaTropa has been playing throughout this conference, many would point to their 3-point shooting as the main weapon for their offense. Having guys like RR Pogoy, Ryan Reyes, and Jayson Castro as their main outside threats certainly doesn’t hurt.
Will they be able to ride the lightning and use this weapon throughout the series? Here are three whys and why nots:
Why #1: RR Pogoy’s consistency
The former FEU standout has found his calling in the PBA as the KaTropa’s go-to scorer from beyond the arc. Aside from being good at his job, he’s shown he isn’t afraid to take big shots from three either. Averaging a decent 38 percent throughout the conference, he’s gone beyond just taking catch and shoot threes and has shown the capability to pull-up off a fastbreak, among many other things. The KaTropa has had stretches where they’ve made it a point to get him the ball and for good reason.
Although he shot a measly 25 percent after Game 1, it was still enough for TNT to pull-off a 109-96 win. He still bends a defense because of the sheer gravity he brings. The KaTropa will be needing Pogoy’s shooting from beyond the arc if they want to prevent SMB from bouncing back in this series.
Why #2: The Threat of Terrence Jones
The TNT import has proven his worth so far in this tournament as he has carried the bulk of the team’s offense. His sheer gravity has freed up his four other teammates on the court, allowing TNT’s offense to flow naturally. Jones’ offensive skill set includes a strong inside game complemented by a solid enough three-point stroke.
With Jones being the center of attention of the Beermen big men, it allows TNT to run halfcourt sets that can lead to quick passes to their open shooters. However, if Jones gets the ball with a little bit of daylight on the wing, he’s not afraid to let that ball go and fire from deep. In Game 1, he shot an astounding 60 percent from the field while making four of his seven attempts. If he can continue this trend throughout (a very possible feat), then the KaTropa’s chances at a championship increase even more. Jones without a three-pointer is already deadly as it is. If he makes even a few, TNT’s offense flourishes even more.
Why #3: SMB’s Porous Defense
Oh, San Miguel. Why does it always have to be like this? The Beermen have had a tendency of sleepwalking when opening a series. At times, they’ve gotten away with it by making large comebacks. However, if Game 1 is any indication, it looks like the Basketball Gods have caught up with the gambling SMB does to start games.
Should the Beermen continue to sleepwalk and fail to adjust their defense, they’re going to have a lot of difficulty bouncing back from this series. The KaTropa will pounce on a lazy defense, as they look determined to finally win a championship after so long.
Why Not #1: San Miguel’s Championship Experience
Kind reminder to all viewers: last Sunday was just the first game of a potential seven-game series between these two titans and the Beermen have a track record of fine-tuning their plays in order to adapt to the opponent’s gameplan. Being a veteran team, Coach Leo Austria’s squad is well-equipped to take on all comers. A scenario of the Beermen solving the Terrence Jones and 3-point shooting problem is not out of the question.
Why Not #2: Over-Reliance on Terrence Jones
The TNT KaTropa is riding the wave that is Jones and that should be no surprise at this point. However, they should be a little bit worried about the wear and tear on the import. In Game 1, Jones was on the court for 45 minutes out of a possible 48 minutes of playing time. At this point, Jones averages 43.26 minutes per game. As one of the reasons why this team was able to make it this far, they have to find ways to keep their star import in his best condition while also keeping themselves competitive with the Beermen.
The KaTropa will be needing his firepower to overcome what’s definitely going to be a revenge game from the Beermen but they can’t keep going to the well repeatedly. If they wish to stand a chance, Coach Bong Ravena has to diversify his attack and let his other players run the offense. Soon enough, the Beermen will find a way to deny Jones on the offensive end and limit his production so guys like Jayson Castro and Troy Rosario will be relied on even more. Having the best point guard in Asia certainly helps their case as Castro, even at his age, has proven that he still has more left in the tank. If they wish to weather the storm that is the Beermen’s second wind, the KaTropa cannot rely solely on Terrence Jones.
Why Not #3: Bong Ravena might get outcoached by Leo Austria
At the end of the day, the coaches are mainly responsible for their team and are one of the main indicators of a team’s success. In the case of TNT, Coach Ravena hasn’t had that much experience when it comes to coaching, much less against an already legendary coach in the form of Leo Austria. However, TNT’s advantage is in Terrence Jones who has exploited everything that the Beermen have thrown at him. To their credit, the KaTropa also have made the most out of their roster during the season by having contributions from players such as Brian Heruela, Frank Golla, and the Semerad brothers. Coach Ravena was able to bring the most out of his team and they were able to have a fantastic run to the Finals.
But the San Miguel Beermen have always been under the microscope and every little mistake they make is magnified and as such, there should be little worry with regards to the Beermen’s ability to bounce back. Being led by Coach Austria once again, the Beermen are still a force that should be reckoned with and the KaTropa cannot let their Game 1 victory go to their heads lest the Beermen come roaring back in Game 2.
With all things said, it’s shaping up to be an interesting Game 2 between these two titans of Philippine basketball. Will the KaTropa’s hot shooting streak give them a 2-0 lead or will the Beermen tie it up with 1 apiece?