The View From the Armchair: Game 2 vs ADMU

Yet another one that got away. But this one got away early. For the second straight game, the Archers took an early lead in the first quarter, then allowed one of the crack guards of the opposing team to get hot, in so doing surrendering the initiative to Ateneo, to fall 72-81. This was the second consecutive 9-point loss of the Archers to begin their S74 campaign on a sour 0-2 note.

Kiefer Ravena got hot early, and almost single-handedly towed Ateneo to an 11-point lead at the half, which they extended to 19, threatening a blow out, before the Archers clawed back to within 5 before the veterans of Ateneo managed to create separation at the end.

Dissecting the game that was

For the second straight game, the Archers shot terribly from the field, hitting only 31.9% of their fg attempts, not much better than their 29.9% against FEU. They took 10 more attempts than their counterparts but made 5 less field goals. The Archers did manage to string together consecutive baskets off defensive stops in the last quarter to cut the lead to 70-75, but these were followed by consecutive misses which were forced the Archers to foul the ball handler to get possession. Unfortunately Monfort made the most of these foul throws to extend the lead and clinch the win.

The offensive futility was best exemplified by the obvious attempt by the coaches to establish Norbert Torres’ game. His game stats – 31 minutes, just 9 points, 6 rebounds (3 off, 3 def), 3 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 1 turnover, 3 fouls, and he took 16 attempts, mostly from the outside, but sank only 3 of them. 0/5 from the 3point area. Interestingly, against FEU he was a bit more passive offensively, taking only 6 attempts and making 2. Simon Atkins also continued his exercise in offensive futility which started against FEU. He missed all 4 of his 3pointers, and made 1 out of his 2 field goal attempts from closer in. Atkins has only made 2 out of his 14 attempts from the field in the first 2 games.

The question is: how long will the coaches persist with a game plan when some players for whom the plays are called aren’t shooting well. It made sense when the shooter is Renren Ritualo, but Torres hasn’t reached that level of accuracy yet. His 16 attempts were almost a fourth of our 72 total tries from the field. In contrast, Sam Marata, our acknowledged sharpshooter, took only 8 attempts, made 1 of 2 of his treys and 2/6 from 2-point territory. Granted, Marata is a marked man, since most of the plays the team runs for him are already known to Ateneo and to all the other teams. This begs the question – how can Ateneo and the other teams free up their gunners on the outside, yet we can’t? Koreans are particularly good at setting up their shooters, so hopefully we would have been able to pick up something from the trips to Korea. It hasn’t shown up yet, though.

Other players were better in putting the ball in the basket. Luigi dela Paz made both of his 3point attempts but missed both his 2-point attempts. Only 4 attempts in 20 minutes. Wonder what might have happened if he had been set up a bit more? LA Revilla was the most effective Archer offensively, making 6 of his 10 attempts. However, as the primary pg in charge of ball distribution, it would be difficult for him to take most of the shots. Maybe he should sometimes take a leaf from RR Garcia and take it himself when his teammates can’t get it done.

Oda Tampus was a bright spot with his intensity both on offense and defense. He bodied up well on the opposing guards, and impeded their attempts to penetrate our perimeter. On offense, he was fearless, perhaps too much, but he kept trying, making 3/8 of his attempts in only 13 minutes to go with 4 rebounds, 2 of them offensive.

Defensively, the team did accomplish one of its objectives – limit Slaughter after he torched Adamson for 23 points. Slaughter managed only 7 points on 4 attempts to go with 6 rebounds, but the concentration on him allowed Ravena to get the space to operate inside. Only after adjustments were made during halftime was Ravena contained, but his teammates were able to take up the slack, notably Long, Monfort, and Salva.

Defensively, the Archers left a lot to be desired. This isn’t the trademark Archer defense we’ve gotten used to. In the first 10 games last year, La Salle limited its opponents to 64 points per game. In the first 2 games, FEU scored 74 and Ateneo dumped 81 on us. Consider that the FEU and Ateneo lineups last year were stronger man-for-man than this year’s editions. Our defense has been soft – yesterday it allowed Ravena to get away with 22 points in the first half. Garcia exploded against us in the second half. That would not have been possible against the defense-minded teams of the past. Our guard corps is supposed to be our greatest strength, but it has allowed their counterparts to outscore them. If not for LA, we would’ve been blown out in both games. The coaches absolutely must fix those defensive lapses, or we’re not going to get far this season.

Our press had been taking a lot of flak recently, because it has been broken in both games, occasionally too easily as the press breaks sometimes lead to a fastbreak on the other end. It does net us a turnover on occasion, but the ease with which it is broken raises questions as to whether its present incarnation is effective enough to be a key weapon in the Archers’ toolkit.

Again, the key to effective defense is unpredictability. Our press has been studied, and various press-break tactics have been adopted by our opponents. We should know by now what these are, and the press should be capable of being tweaked or customized when we play the different teams. Our half-court defense was erratic against Ateneo; sometimes it succeeded in getting a stop, but more often, it allowed them to score on almost half of their fg attempts.

On the positive side, the Archers are starting to show that never-say-die spirit that fuelled their comeback from 19 points to bring the team to within 5 points with a minute left. The fightback was indicative that this team is starting to figure things out. They defended well, scored, and threw the Blue Eagles off balance. They ran out of time. Unfortunately.

Oh yeah, we did better at the ft line, sinking 71%, 22 out of 31. A step forward for sure.

Looking forward

0-2. After 3 play dates, with all teams having played 2 games each, we’re sharing the cellar with rebuilding UE. For those used to seeing the Green Archers near or at the top of the standings, this is unfamiliar territory. And therefore it’s scary. Scary enough for some to panic and call for wholesale changes in the team on the grounds that it can’t get any worse.

Yes, the concern is valid, but changing systems and coaches at this point is not an option if we want to do well this year. The team cannot unlearn everything they’ve trained for in the last year in the space of a couple of weeks and replace it with a totally different system and coach. That would be tantamount to blowing up the team’s preparation. The only realistic option available is to re-examine the current situation, the reasons behind the poor team and individual performance, and make the necessary adjustments. The strategy is sound, but the execution has been bad.

The coaches, in particular, are going to have to analyze why the team as well as some particular players are not performing as well as they have in the past. Notable absentees are Vosotros, Torres, Andrada, Paredes, and even old reliables like Mendoza and Atkins who have failed to show their old game. dela Paz, while relatively effective on offense, has been bad on defense.

Our offense seems to rely on very precise timing for our plays like the screens and cuts, but apparently the boys’ timing is still off because when those kinds of plays don’t work as intended, the shot clock has been almost used up and we need to throw up a bad/hurried shot or resort to individual plays. That’s not Archer basketball.

I agree with tightening the rotation. Some players should not see action unless the game is a blow out, one way or another. The coaches cannot afford to experiment with untested players at this late stage. And they should know when something’s not working, and change tactics, as when certain players can’t make their shots, and their number keeps getting called. If they’re off, call other play patterns that depend on other players. We’ve got lots of shooters, and one or more of them will make their shots. In the past 2 games, Atkins and Torres were way off their shots, yet they kept shooting. Yes, you can allow shooters like Renren to shoot their way out of a slump, but also know when it already presents a risk of losing and go to alternatives. I’m sure that there are more plays in the playbook.

To make the playoffs, the team must win at least 8 games. 9 wins should assure us of a playoff slot. Of the 12 games we have left, we can afford to lose at most 4: 1-2 out of 6 games to UE, UP, and UST, and at most 2 out of our remaining 6 games against FEU, Ateneo, Adamson, and NU.

The team has a week to fix the issues before we play UP on Saturday. We’d better win that game, or we can just about write off our chances for a decent finish. We’re at the bottom of the heap as of now, which is a totally unfamiliar place for us. The players and coaches better step it up, because there’s nowhere else to go but up. Unless we lose the next game and we stay where we are – at the bottom. That would be the pits.