The Green Archers staving off a furious Adamson rally. Enraged fans on one side and relieved ones on the other. Norbert Torres coming out of hibernation with a roar. A non-controversial “controversial” call blown way out of proportion. Jeron Teng breaking a deadlock with 41 seconds left by making two crucial free throws. Now who says nothing exciting happens right smack in the middle of a grinding workweek?
Before getting into the thick of things, allow me to talk about the elephant in the room. I was tempted not to, but because of today’s headlines in the major dailies I just couldn’t resist. Depending on which newspaper you follow, we either won the game because of made free throws or solely due to a “controversial call.”
Some people have started calling it “the call.” (including the quotation marks) Really? “The call?” Are they saying it’s on the level of “the call” during the 1972 men’s basketball finals during the summer Olympics in Munich? Because all we have here is an oddly termed foul for one committed during the final two minutes away from the ball. But a foul nonetheless (I’m not a referee by any means, but it happened a few feet right in front of where I was seated). I think these things are shelved under the one labeled “breaks of the game.” Something our team has learned to live with, as any team should.
This time I want to go into a few things that have been voiced out during our two-game skid. Yes, in the relatively short 14-game UAAP elimination rounds, back-to-back losses is a skid. Three straight defeats is a losing streak, and I don’t know what four consecutive defeats would be called, but it’s all just semantics anyway. I’ve been hearing a lot of nitpicking (which proportionally increases as a team goes on a skid) about coach Juno Sauler’s demeanor and actions during games.
Really? Does the length of time a coach is standing up during the entirety of a game or how much he jumps up and down reflective of his intensity and desire to win? I made extra effort to keep an eye on coach Sauler during yesterday’s game, and he was right there standing up to shout out instructions or talk to the referees about things they probably missed. I’ve seen him do this consistently since the season started, even getting up to talk to the players on the bench when he sees a play gone awry on the court. So he’s not as animated and colorful as the other coaches. And likes to sit down more. Is that such a big deal?
Motivating players at this level of play can come in different forms. He knows his players best more than anyone, so I am certain he is getting his message through loud and clear as he tries to mold this team into a more cohesive unit.
Which brings me to another closely connected issue raised, that he doesn’t have a system. Really? The way I’ve seen this team transform and individual players evolve, I’m quite certain those things don’t come out of nowhere. From a team that previously didn’t have a clear offensive approach or any semblance at all of any defensive schemes and discipline, I’ve said time and again that now I see them relentlessly pushing the ball at every possible opportunity.
Earlier in the season I even took mental note of numerous occasions when the ball was already past the halfcourt line 3-4 seconds into the shot clock. Yesterday we saw this at its finest when the Archers controlled the tempo for majority of the game, enabling them to hold onto a huge lead for most of the game (don’t worry, I’ll get to the endgame later). Of course this kind of play took time, because in our earlier games we’d see many turnovers in the form of haphazard passes while running.
Yesterday’s pace was more controlled while maintaining the same speed. In addition to this, we know all know he uses a tight and short rotation, but he gives the opponents different looks, as best exemplified once again when he chooses to use Van Opstal And Norbert Torres at the same time when he sees fit. But what pleases me the most is the various defensive schemes he throws at opponents. This is so easy to overlook because it’s not as flashy as offense. But the Archers managed to limit Ingrid Sewa and Rodney Brondial to 5 and 6 points respectively. In particular, Sewa had his usual touches, but the double team always came at the exact moment when needed to make him give up his dribble then leaves quickly to get a body on the player he left open momentarily. I’ve seen the team do this even in earlier games, and it seems so simple- including the players having more active hands on defense resulting in steals, disrupting passes or forcing turnovers- but defense takes a lot of discipline. Discipline I only started seeing when this season started.
Another thing I started hearing a lot about was our team not having a go-to player in the likes of Bobby Ray Parks, Roi Sumang, Kiefer Ravena, R.R. Garcia or Terrence Romeo on offense. Having seen the individual statistics and looking back at the box scores for the entire season up to this point, we have four players averaging double digits, with Teng and Vostros at a little over 15, Perkins with 11.5 and Van Opstal 10.5, and three others scoring at least 7 point per game (Norbert and Thomas Torres and Luigi Dela Paz). And in six games, we’ve had five different players ending up as the leading scorer. If that doesn’t spell out having a “balanced attack,” I don’t know what does. More explicitly, this is a team we’re seeing this season, and not one or two star players surrounded by a bunch of role players in terms of offense. I’d rather have the team’s fortunes ride on each of its members’ shoulders, rather than on a single player. As for the new slight being thrown around the past two games, about Jeron Teng’s offense taking a slide during the second half, may I point out that he led the team in assists in yesterday’s game? As with the entire team, we’re seeing him evolve his game into a more team-oriented one. And with all the criticism that has been thrown at him, I think his offense is the last thing we should be worrying about.
But of course, yesterday wasn’t a perfect game, as a huge lead once again got whittled down in the endgame. I feel everyone is waiting and hoping for the Archers to become a team that can blow other teams off the court, which in some way can be justified since the Archers have proven that they can throw double digit leads at their opponents.
We now know they can close out tight games, but how to manage leads still needs to be addressed. Coach Sauler said this straightforwardly after the game, expressing his unhappiness at how his boys played in the final quarter. Like in previous games, I saw them again starting to play tentatively once Adamson started putting up a semblance of a run- suddenly slowly walking the ball towards the frontcourt compared to the tempo that gave them that huge lead, making ill-advised passes, committing costly turnovers.
As a number of people have brought up, maybe this has to do with mental composure, fine-tuning plays in those situations, or having a team leader who can make order reign over chaos. But just like in the aspects of free throw shooting, defense, or the evolution and emergence of certain players wherein we’ve already started to see the fruits of labor, I still remain very confident that the team and coaching staff are hard at work at this and will figure it out.
So everybody put your panic buttons back in the box, and let’s enjoy yesterday’s win that turned the middle of the UAAP standings into a circus as we look forward to Sunday’s game which will end the first round, and take a break to root for our national team. Thanks for an exciting Wednesday boys. Oh and did I mention Jeron Teng broke a deadlock by making two crucial free throws with 41 seconds remaining? Of course I did.