The View From the Armchair – Game 1: DLSU 73 UP 68

Depending on how you look at it, the nailbiter 73-68 win against UP was either a sign that the team is maturing, or it was a bit of a letdown considering that UP has just won a handful of games in the past two seasons.

The Archers led for most of the game, even took a 15point margin in the second half, but gave up the lead in the last minute, and only a resolute defensive effort prevented an upsetting loss to start the new season. But strangely, it was that last minute stand that might just define the Archers’ campaign this season.

A New Look Archer Team

The Green Archers started their Season 75 campaign sans the full court press which had long been a trademark of the green and white squad. In its place were a suffocating man-to-man and an occasional switch to a zone, both options featuring lock-down coverage of the shaded area by our bigs led by Norbert and Yutien. Although the painted area was well covered, the perimeter defense also made things difficult for the UP shooters like Silungan and Manuel, who had to bleed for their shots behind the arc. Finding their path to the basket blocked by our interior defenders, the Maroons were forced to take almost a third of their total field goal attempts from the 3point area, often under severe pressure from our on-the-ball defenders. UP managed to sink only 4 out of 19 attempts from afar, and this was not enough to pressure our frontliners to extend their defensive line.

On offense, the Archers unveiled a post presence anchored by Norbert and Jovet, and their ability to create or pass with their backs to the basket opened up the lane for our slashers. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hit our treys – only 1 out of 11, but the team more than made up for it with their accuracy from closer in, 46% on 26/56 shooting. Our perimeter offense will have to pick up if we are to unclog the lane in future games.

One notable difference in the Archers’ game is the set plays they routinely employ to take advantage of different situations and attack the defense set up by opponents. Picks, cuts, and off-the-ball positioning are used to set up specific players in certain spots, and these were relatively effective. When the plays aren’t set up as planned, the guards are able to decide who to go to – this was seen in the team not committing any shot clock violations.

Gone are the staggered screens and tough catch-and-shoot plays which were so thoroughly scouted by the competition in the past couple of years that they effectively were turnovers instead of scoring opportunities. In their place were deliberate sets, off the ball movement and good positioning by our post players. Result? 32 points by Norbert, Yutien, and Jovet combined from inside the paint. That’s half the total score of UP yesterday. 30 points from our guard corps of LA and Jeron.  11 points from our wingmen Luigi and Joshua. Pretty balanced scoring from all positions.

On the other end, our frontliners collected 5 blocks (out of our 7), and hauled down 27 boards. The Archers previously been described as having a doughnut reputation with a shallow interior, but today our interior players are fast shaping up to be a major weapon. We also have a perimeter defender with the willingness, speed (to chase his man all over the court), and toughness (to fight through those highly physical screens) to “bulldog” his man and make life difficult for him – Jed Manguera. Yesterday, Jed was able to help limit UP’s hotshooting Silungan to 18 points, and even managed to block him once despite being outsized by the taller and heftier UP gunner.

One notable change in our team’s game is the crisp passing plays that create momentary gaps in the opponents’ defense, allowing dribble penetrations and drive-and-dish patterns, one of which led to Jeron’s game-turning and-1 basket. Jovet and Yutien were also recipients of some nifty touch passing underneath which led to points as well. And we haven’t seen much of the pick-and-roll yet. There are still a few surprises to come in this area.

It’s becoming apparent that the players are more familiar with each other, know what they can and will do in certain situations, and trust each other to make the right moves. That augurs well for our campaign this season.

Interestingly, we had 4 players in double digits, and Luigi missed joining that group by a single point. The scoring balance means that opponents can’t focus their defenses on any single player, since our game is now anchored on a team concept.

Delivering Under Pressure

The other interesting development is the team’s reaction after UP took the lead in the last minute. Last year’s team might have given in to the pressure and collapsed in the endgame. This edition pushed back immediately. LA drove towards the lane, causing Jeron’s guard to momentarily take his eye off Jeron, who immediately cut and was given the ball by LA. Score, and one. Lead back to DLSU by 1 with less than a minute to go. But there was a major concern that Jeron had flubbed both of his earlier foul shots, so the pressure was on. Jeron focused, and the freebie went into the net, flawlessly. Up by 2. On the next UP offensive, Jed stuck to Silungan who had to cough up the ball to Manuel. Manuel managed to get the shot off, but Yutien was there to deflect the ball, we recovered, and LA was fouled and sank the insurance fts. On the last play, good perimeter defensive teamwork pressured Padilla into an error, and Norbert sank a meaningless free throw to end the game. Instead of regressing into individual plays like they used to in the past, the team played together, showed a steely resolve to win, and succeeded. Under pressure. Nice.

Coach Gee showed his confidence in his players when he elected not to call time after UP took the lead, instead trusting them to make the right play. And they did, with that play orchestrated by LA to Jeron, and with the right defensive moves that smothered the last 2 UP offensives.

Areas for Improvement

Still a few.

The turnovers. They had 17 in all. In particular the bad passes.  The team still may not have that precise split second timing required for their inside plays. Yet. That instinctive sense of timing and familiarity will come with time, which is probably soon considering how much progress they’ve made in unlearning the past system and picking up a new one.

Blending the individual strengths into the team game. The coaches have done an excellent job of taking into consideration the skills of the individual players and stitching these together into a cohesive group of athletes who are all on the same page. It takes a bit of time for a very analytical group of coaches to maximize the good individual skills and form the players into a group who make teamwork the bedrock of their game. But so far, so good. They’re almost there.

And the free throws. It wouldn’t be a Green Archer game without our team missing a few of them. We had 9, which definitely contributed to making the game a whole lot more interesting. Perhaps needlessly so.

 Looking Forward

We play UE on Thursday, July 19 at 4pm at the Araneta Coliseum. UE is a team aching for vindication following a 35point blowout at the hands of title favorite NU. UE has taken the measure of the Archers in the offseason, and they notched one of their few wins against us last year. Expect the Warriors to try to regain some pride by taking our scalp.

The team cannot take any game for granted, even this early in the season. The race to the playoffs could boil down to a difference of a single win or loss, so every game is a must-win for us if we are to avoid repeating the ignominy of missing the playoff bus for a second straight year.

The way the team played yesterday, and the way the coaches managed the team’s performance give us hope that we will do better this year.