By all accounts, the last play of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in regulation versus the FEU Tamaraws was madness. It was difficult to comprehend what exactly happened during that sequence, and people have had questions about it.

Let’s try to look back at that last sequence frame by frame, and but everything into perspective.

THE PLAY

After forcing the FEU Tamaraws to cough up the ball with 14 seconds left on the shot clock, the Ateneo Blue Eagles had the chance to tie the game up. The score was 63-60, they clearly needed a three-pointer at this juncture of the game. There were some problems though.

For one, they didn’t have any timeouts. They had to inbound the ball from the other side of the court, plus, Coach Tab had no opportunity to set anything up off a timeout. They’d have to go to a play they were already familiar with, or just play off instincts.

Two, they didn’t have two of their best creators, Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena. They needed someone to handle the rock. In the clutch, having someone to create matters. Ateneo had it in their do or die versus FEU when Matt dished off the pass to Isaac for the game-tying three. During Games 1 and 3 of the Finals, Thirdy Ravena dished off the assist to Isaac Go to give the dagger to La Salle.

With those things in mind, the initial set up of the play looked like this.

The FEU defense immediately played man to man, and reasonably so. Adrian Wong brought the ball down, and immediately, Angelo Kouame set the pick for Wong. With the way Adrian was attacking and how FEU was defending, any form of a kick out seemed unlikely. This was his to take. 
Comboy doesn’t budge on the Kouame screen. A switch doesn’t happen. While all of that was happening, Anton went towards the left wing with Hubert Cani draped on him, while Jolo Mendoza went towards the way of Adrian.

On that note, it’s time to ask, where was this play going? With the way this looks, things looked lost. It looked like Jolo was curling towards the left wing, but with spacing clogged up in that area, any form of a good look would have been unlikely. A more logical option would have been the left side of the court, but no form of action was occurring there. Now, check out what happens next.

Jolo actually WASN’T curling towards the right wing! It’s something he does a lot. Fake the curl to one direction, only to backpedal and go to the opposite side. Credits to Jolo, this was a good move! The problem was (and he realizes it right away), because of how jumbled up the spacing was, he didn’t get any form of an opportunity to catch the ball. Good move though.

But, Jolo’s action wasn’t for naught. The beauty of Jolo Mendoza and Anton Asistio: BOTH WILL KEEP ON MOVING OFF THE BALL. And it’s in full display here. Anton curls towards the top of the key, while Jolo’s fake curl to the right wing causes Jasper Parker to slightly block the way of Hubert Cani. It doesn’t help the cause of the FEU defense that Hubert nonchalantly went under the “screen” (quotation marks because it wasn’t exaclty meant to be as such) that Jolo set. This was a recipe for disaster for the Tamaraws. Look at all of that SPACE for a kick out to Asistio.

But, there was a problem. The space was already clogged up on Adrian’s side of the court, so he didn’t really have any vision to see Anton curling. By the time he had space to see Anton, he was already set to take the contested three. It would have been a nice opportunity to give the ball to Anton. Granted, the distance where Anton was pretty far, it was still a decent look. Hindsight is 20-20 after all.

PUTTING THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE

  • Let’s cut Adrian Wong some slack. It was really difficult for him to get anything up because as it is, he himself isn’t used to being in such situations. In the first place, he hasn’t been used as a creator for most of his UAAP career. He’s best as a wing, moving around screens for open looks while being used as a secondary ball-handler. Not having Matt and Thirdy in there were HUGE for the Blue Eagles. Simply put, this was a tough situation the Blue Eagles were put in.
  • Movement matters, Jolo and Anton’s continued activity nearly gave them an opportunity at an open look. But as mentioned, the situation was tough. Quite frankly, they weren’t used to it.
  • Are Ateneo’s clutch woes a problem? For now, it looks like it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be solved. You live and you learn. They might have lost this game, but that doesn’t mean all is over. This will only make them better. And with someone like Coach Tab at the helm? This is an issue they will bounce back from in the long run.
  • Are the Ateneo Blue Eagles still title contenders? We’d be foolish to think otherwise.