The View From the Armchair: Game 5 vs NU

Finally! A reasonably good look at what appears to be Archer ball. A win that didn’t make you wonder if your heart would last until the end of the game. A game that allowed you to enjoy watching the nuances of the plays without the nervousness that accompanies close games. A 20-point margin that had climbed to over 30 at one point in the game.

The Archers thoroughly tamed the Bulldogs, sent them whimpering back to the doghouse. No matter that the win was against a team that looks bound for the cellar. A third straight win nonetheless, something to savor for a day or two. Until the team comes up against surprising front running UST this weekend.

The significance of the win

A third straight win, with a fairly comfortable margin. This was the first game the Archers were able to impose their will from the opening tip up to the final buzzer. Where they quickly built a double digit lead that never looked like it might be overhauled. Finally crossing the .500 mark. Making it to the top 4 teams as of Thursday. And showing to all that the Archer game is alive and well, and that the green-and-white cannot be written off as also-rans. BTW, with reference to Coach Pido’s comments in the Manila Bulletin (…shockwaves-uaap), the Archers can win. And it’s not surprising to many of us who continued to believe in the team and the players even though they lost badly in the first two games.

What went right?

The continued emergence of defense as a very important weapon. The Archer defense frustrated NU for 40 minutes and limited them to 48 points. The lockdown first quarter forced the Bulldogs into almost a turnover a minute, and quickly dampened any hope they had that they could pull off a win. NU took almost 7 minutes to break the ice, and by that time they were staring at a 12-2 deficit. That terrible 4 point NU production in the first quarter was followed by an equally impotent 8 point third quarter. The suffocating press yielded 35 turnovers by early 4th quarter.

The Bulldogs were frisky and full of energy at the start of the game, but by the end of the 3rd quarter they had their tails between their legs, staring at a deficit bigger than their score.

Defense can create an exercise in futility and break the will of the opponents. Only two NU players were able to score consistently – Ponferada and Baloran, both of whom played over 30 minutes each and accounted for over 2/3 of the NU score. The remaining six scorers for NU only totaled 15 points collectively, so effective was the blanketing by the Archer defense. NU was only able to take 46 field goal attempts compared to the Archers’ 66. Talk about domination on both ends.

The offense racked up 57 points by with one quarter to go – if they maintained that scoring pace, they might have managed to hit the 80s. The outside shooting re-emerged as a potent weapon after misfiring badly in the first couple of games. Crisp passing and relatively fluid off-the-ball movement allowed shooters to get loose. And we saw the improving teamwork on offense and defense.

The offense showed clear signs of picking up. Shooting accuracy also broke the trend in prior games, as the Archers hit 40% of their 3point attempts and 41% for overall field goal tries. Not bad for a team that some said “couldn’t shoot”.

The rebounding strength of the frontline continued to prove its worth, and the team continued to keep their opponents from having second chances. Offensive rebounds contributed 13 second chance points, maybe less than in previous games because the Archers shot well for a change. James again did his share of board work with 5 caroms despite playing only 13 minutes. Rookies Arvie and Yutien together with sophomore Jovet grabbed 4 each. Gab maximized his 15 minutes by pulling down 3 in addition to hitting his first trey.

Steals – 13 in all, showed the active positioning, quick hands and feet that are the keystone of the aggressive Archer defense. This legal thievery was led by Sam Marata who picked the pockets of the ‘Dogs 4 times, 3 by James, and 3 by Jovet. These steals contributed greatly to the frustration of the NU coaches and players, and helped convince them that they couldn’t win against the Archers, at least not yesterday.

Let’s not forget teamwork, whic was exemplified in the 20 assists of the team. Starting pg Simon showed why he is one of the better ball distributers in the league, dishing off 5 assists. 10 Archers helped their teammates put points on the board, showing that the players ‘know how to share the rock’.

Another facet of the Archers showed itself yesterday: the discipline, and the willingness to stay within the system and avoid freelancing, even when the lead had ballooned to over 30 points.

Oh, and a nice touch – Franz refused to run up the score by easing up and tinkering with the lineups. This predictably resulted in some errors, and allowed the ‘Dogs to score some, save some face and walk away from the game with a decent deficit instead of a blowout. The game was already won, no need to rub it in.

What wasn’t quite right?

The turnovers, which against any other team, might have gotten them into hot water, although Franz absolved the players during the post-game presscon when he said that his experimentation led to some of the miscues. The free throw yips, continued to bedevil Archers whenever they found themselves at the foul line. The travelling errors persisted, usually coming off a fake before dribbling around the perimeter. There was still a vulnerability to the drive-and-dish penetration by good ball handlers, where the ball typically goes to a waiting big under the basket. Some were simple mistakes, more commonly due to lapses of concentration than anything more serious.

The free throw accuracy, in particular, will be important in close games. Yesterday it dipped below .500. Notable misses came from our big men (1/7) and slashers, who are the most likely to get fouled. Just a thought – is it illegal to have a teammate stand in front of the foul shooter and raise his hand as if to block the shot? Going by the fg and ft accuracy, there isn’t much difference and they have practiced their shots under duress. Just kidding.

Our veterans returned from sick bay but played sparingly: James played only 13 minutes, Peejay played only 10, Bader only 11, Ferdinand only 9. Their performances were a bit below par, and they were able to contribute only 10 points.

The rookie watch

Franz had the luxury of fielding in his rookies for a total of 77 minutes yesterday, and they showed why they are a highly regarded group of recruits. Sam played almost the equivalent of one half at 19 minutes, followed by Yutien and Gab at 15 each, Arvie at 14, Joel at 11, and Jed with 3. The rookies contributed 27 points (almost 40% of the points of the team), 7 assists (out of 20), 5 steals (out of 13), 14 rebounds (out of 43), and 1 block. Sam logged all his 12 points from 3pointers. Arvie still needs a bit of adjustment to his game, as he continued to struggle with his field goals. Gab showed his fine form, hitting his only attempt from beyond the arc and making 1/2 of his 2point tries.  Joel had an off day and fouled out in only 11 minutes, but still dished off 2 assists.

Their game-time experiences yesterday will definitely help them play better in the coming games.

The outlook

Other teams will now take the Archers more seriously in the light of yesterday’s results. Expect opposing coaches to try to dissect our defense and see how they might exploit any possible loopholes. Also expect to see different press break tactics as well as countermeasures for the standard Archer offensive sets.

The Archer game has been exhaustively analyzed and picked apart over the years, but no one has really found a lasting antidote.  Because how do  you guard against the teamwork that is now showing signs of development?

How do you crack the different looks of the Archer defense? I’d liken our defense to an amoeba – it changes shape and form all the time.  The different looks often have the effect of throwing a monkey wrench into the the plays the opposing coaches call because the sets were not designed to go up against that defense. By the time the opposing players figure out which play to call to counter the previous roadblock they encountered, they’re already facing a different defensive setup, and this often results in some on-court confusion and wasted time off the shot clock.  That’s why it’s not uncommon to see our opponents cough up the ball on a 24 second violation, or take hurried shots with no time left on the shot clock. Wonder if anyone compiles stats on how many broken plays the Archers generate with their various defensive stances? Ok, defense may be boring, but it’ll help get us the wins, however ugly.

And Finally,

Interestingly, this was the 2nd consecutive game that the Archers played in the curtain raiser while Ateneo played the 2nd game. Both wins for us. Maybe we should have more games scheduled with them?

Superstition? Lucky coincidence? Nah, we should just KEEP THE FAITH, continue to believe in the coaches, players, and the system despite the strident voices of the doubters and critics! After all, we never lost FAITH despite the bad games. As Gang Green likes to say, “KEEPER OF THE FAITH“.