Basketball has recently become more and more a numbers game in the recent years. You can read articles where sportswriters would be consistently throwing numbers at your face to back up their point of which player/team is playing well or struggling. There’s the plus/minus system, PER, EFF ratings.
It’s been a real revelation to the game, making it easier to evaluate players. Some players who flew under the radar for doing things that slipped through the “eye-test” were being utilized more.
There are things however, that numbers can’t quite completely explain, and the 3rd Game of the Philippine Cup Finals is an exhibit of such an event in basketball among many other intangibles.
After being spoiled with the eventful Game 2 and the story line of the comeback of Game 1, Game three started out dully in comparison. I kind of expected something that would blow me off my seat like Calvin Abueva dunking on Junemar Fajardo to break the backboard and then walk over to the San Miguel Bench and make some kind of rude hand gesture causing a riot all over the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Now that, would have been something else.
However, in game 3, the spectators were treated with a low scoring 13-8 first quarter in favor of the Alaska Aces. And it wasn’t even that physical! Well, except for the Abueva fastbreak that left another cut in Arwind Santos’ head.
It was just a bunch of good defense combined (from the Aces) and good offense without luck (from the Beermen). Look at this play here:
The Beermen moved the ball perfectly, throwing the ball into Fajardo and then moved the ball from inside to outside. They passed the ball around the perimeter and when they reached a dead end on the perimeter, Chris Lutz made a drive inside causing the Aces zone to collapse before moving the ball out to Ronals Pasqual for the open 3. But the shot clock expired first. That was perfect ball movement from the Beermen.
But the Aces played defense as well as the Beermen moved the ball. Abueva moved inside to reinforce Sonny Thoss in defending Fajardo and when Fajardo passed the ball out to Abueva’s man, Arwind Santos, Tony De La Cruz made sure to make the rotation in time to force Arwind to move the ball. Baguio rotated to Chriss Ross who made the extra pass to Chris Lutz. Abueva rotated from the Fajardo double to force Lutz into the drive which eventually found a dead end and had to pass to Pasqual, resulting in the 24 second time out.
The Aces would open up the first quarter with mischievous fastbreaks and secondary breaks which would give them the lead in the first quarter.
But then the second quarter came and all hell broke loose for the Beermen.
Note: Sorry for the poor quality of video for the highlights from the 2nd quarter onwards. I can only work with what I can get.
The Beermen were able to stop the Aces into a halfcourt set. During the second and third quarter, the Aces couldn’t get out on the fastbreak, settled in their half court set, and were bothered by the length of the Beermen which led into forced turnovers and forced midrange shots. During that 24 minute period, the Aces were outscored 56-33 and went into the 4th quarter break down by 18 only because mini-run that kept them from being down 21.
From my experience, there is an unwritten rule in basketball about the psychological point difference in basketball. Anything within 20 points is still considered capable of a comeback. Get a few runs here and there and before you know it you are back in the game.
But if you go past 20 points, the players his that psychological barrier. Sure they’ll be still fired up and keep yelling that there’s still a chance, just keep getting basket by basket and play solid defense. But a part inside says “Yeah, this game is out of reach. I’ll just go out and do my best”. Of course, no true athlete will admit to having that thought because our coaches have programmed us to believe that until the final buzzer sounds, there’s still hope. But psychologically, there is such a barrier.
However, that is what separates us from professional athletes. That is what differs us from that of the Alaska Aces.
They were down by 22 at the end of the first quarter in Game 1. Now they were down by 18 at the start of the 4th quarter being down as much as 21 nearing the end of the third.
I mentioned in the start of this article about intangibles and things that numbers couldn’t quantify and momentum of the game is one of them. You could tell that the Beermen controlled the “momentum” of them game when you look back and see the point swing between the first and second quarter but that is an event that needs more context that just the numbers to evaluate.
So the fourth quarter started with most of the spectators expecting the San Miguel Beermen to just runaway with the comfortable lead.
The Alaska Aces continued on with their full court press and they blow off the 4th quarter with a 13-1 run, capped off with none other than a Dondon Hontiveros (BANG!) three pointer at the 7:40 mark. So if you are good at math, you’ve probably figured out by now that the lead was suddenly down to 6 points within almost 4 and a half minutes of the 4th quarter.
You can look and point that right then and there, the momentum of them game totally shifted to the Aces. The numbers are not going to be able to tell the kind of story as you watch the moment that Dondon hits that shot.
That’s what the Aces are capable of. They press the ball hard full court and they run the fastbreak very well. If they get those two functions going, they start to be more fluid in the halfcourt set with the defense struggling to set up.
Eventually, the Aces finished with a 32-6 advantage fourth quarter to the San Miguel Beermen to steal the victory at 78-70.
What the hell happened?
If I am going to be straight up, nothing happened. What we saw happening in the 4th quarter was almost exactly what we saw in the 1st quarter. The Aces played solid defense and pushed themselves out on the fastbreak. The Beermen’s length were less effective if they couldn’t get down on the court fast enough to utilize it.
In the end, the game was up to who was able to find their true identity and exploit it to the end of the game. The Beermen did a good job for almost 3 full quarters, but that last quarter they lost focus and lost the game.
Random Things I liked from this game
- Sonny “The Boss” Thoss (again, I love the PBA nicknames) is the master of the “back screen”. He will walk up to a defender feigning a screen with his front side and then turn so that his back is against the defender and he is facing the ball handler. This is perfect for the Pick and Pop or Pick and Roll as the ball handler does not have to wait for the rolling/popping Thoss to turn to the ball as he is already facing the ball. This is not an easy move to perfect as turning you back to the defender makes it harder to gauge which way the defender is going, which makes it harder to make an efficient block.
- Arwind Santos has one of the more smoother jumpers I have seen in the PBA so far and it’s not even close. He releases with the same form regardless of the defense darting at him. Santos gets up so high for his shot because of his leaping ability and he releases the ball on the way down, so the defenders have all the time in the world to get up and close to him to bother the shot. Most shooters will be irritated with this kind of defense, but Santos just maintains his form and makes shot after shot.
- Manny Pacquiao, politician/boxer/coach/player for KIA Sorento treated like royalty with Peter John Ramos, Kia Sorento import player/bodyguard.
There are many things that the numbers can’t tell you in the game of basketball, and that’s what make it so beautiful. Basketball is a game where every instance is created from context leading from one to another and sometimes you have to look at the game as a whole to truly admire. In this game, the Aces were able to capitalize on that beauty while the Beermen painted a nice canvas throughout most of the game before ruining it at the end.
Note to readers: I am Thai and new to the PBA, so I might have missed/left out/misunderstood some crucial points or overlooked some parts of the Filipino basketball culture. I’d like to apologize in advance for any such mistakes. If you have any suggestions and corrections for me, please do share with me as I am more than willing to understand different cultures of basketball.