Bracing for impact: Knights eye equalizer
Pio Garcia, Unblogged Sports Blogger (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2013 - 3:11pm

As Letran gears up for Game Two (slated 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena), all they have to take note of is a number. It is the point production of their starting small forward Kevin Racal. Also, it is the total production they got from guys who went off the pine for them.

All Letran has to do is think about the number 12.

When your bench drops a grand total of 12 points, you would definitely be on the shorter end of the stick. Their opponents? The Red Lion bench unloaded 37 points on the hapless Knights. The offense of the bench was already bad. But what was worse was that they got scored on repeatedly via open 3-pointers. I don’t know if it was just me or are they cheating too much on those baseline run-outs?

How many times were Anthony Semerad and Yvan Ludovice left wide open following a cross-court gallop by the baseline then setting up shop by the flanks? I counted six alone for those two and they were not coming off nasty, bone-rattling screens either. Not only was the offense dysfunctional when the starters rested, but the defense cannot lag a step behind when the subs come in. it’s the championship guys. You wouldn’t want to play “Hand down, man down!” with a seasoned bunch of titleholders.

Well, you can give a free pass for the rookies, since hey, it’s their first game in this kind of setting. But some of the vets? I must be hard on you, much more so if it is your last year and you didn’t bring enough to the table. Here’s my take on how the Knights can bounce back from that horrifying meltdown. We’re not playing experts. We just call it how a student of the game sees it.

Bench production

This should be on top of the menu. As I have mentioned above, 12 bench points in a finals game is ugly. When your starters account for 90 percent of your output, the other team can take advantage on them on defense. Why? When they drive and drive with impunity on Marvin Cruz, Racal and Raymond Almazan, they wouldn’t be too worried when the subs come in since they know they can’t produce at this stage of the season. Jon Tambeling needs to get his mojo back (this guy can ball, like seriously) and Rey Nambatac needs to strut that All-NCAA form of his that got left in the juniors. Jojo Belorio? Man, you gotta up those four measly points. It doesn’t help when you resort to thuggery on some plays to get by (please, I saw you throw a pabaon here and there). Gabawan has been doing his usual work, but the rest have to pick it up from him. He’s great for scrapper points but not as the featured offensive player.

Point guard duties

This was where Letran got done in. Cruz sat down due to a jammed thumb (it would seem to me if you’ve played street ball), McJour Luib comes in and all hell broke loose…on Letran. Here’s the thing, I wrote somewhere that Cruz will be a given but the pivotal piece for Caloy Garcia is the development of Luib. Well, I wonder where the development went. Dude threw more turnovers and bricks than good passes. On a +/- scale, he’s a double negative for me. You are the point guard when Cruz is out, McJour. Better act like one, bud. Abarcar and Ludovice ate you for dinner, with fries on the side, as one Twitter follower told me. Don’t lift off without knowing what to do. Pass first, shoot later. Don’t force the game to come to you, let it seep into you. Point guard basics. Keep it on a Post It and tack it somewhere you always look.

Play Almazan off ball

Raymond Almazan, for all his MVP worth, is not yet a polished offensive player. Sure, there is that back down, bang, fadeaway jumper he employs ala-Kerby Raymundo. But that’s it. The post fundamentals are still lacking like say, sealing, having a counter move when his favorite spot to turn (towards the left from the right side) is denied, all that stuff. Also, it’s difficult to bang on a wall named Ola Adeogun repeatedly. Mind you, it saps the strength of a player when you have to jockey for position then repeatedly back your man down. One thing Almazan can really take advantage off is his ability to slip into uncontested spaces for easy drop passes. Maybe more pick and rolls up high involving Cruz will open up the lane more for the MVP since hypothetically speaking, Cruz will be commanding a blitz to 1.) deny his looks and 2.) to make him put the leather on the deck to prevent a pass to slip easily for a jam. Also, can we limit the three ball attempts to two per game? Almazan is far from being Beau Belga, but the probability of him putting it on the deck after a pump fake and exploding for a jam is drool-worthy. But it’s the Finals. It is a stick to basics, don’t be flashy kind of thing.

Fight through screens

As mentioned above, the Knights weren’t fighting through baseline picks that set up Anthony Semerad and Yvan Ludovice at the flanks by end game. Yes, Almazan is the MVP and DPOY, but he’s not at the defensive IQ level of a Joakim Noah who can cover spaces on the floor and still grab that consequential rebound.  Every Knight must do their part to cover for Almazan as he guards that rim on driving Basers, Abarcars and Romes. And while we’re at it, he has to zero-in on Adeogun who just backs him up to deep on the seal. Your man is fighting hard. You should do your part to at least be ready to help and recover on the flanks. As they say, one step to the paint, two quick ones to close outside. But everyone was a step to slow and when Ludovice and Semerad started bombing away, those steel shields broke under the barrage. There was even a moment when Francis Abarcar walked in unmolested for a layup. And Adeogun going coast to coast? You can’t do that. Hack him, stop him, throw your body and soul just so he cannot gallop easily for the layup. You dig?

And before this long “analysis” make a shrieker’s brain go haywire, it’s this simple:

Wear your big boy pants. This is the finals. It’s not for the weak.

Send your letters of complaint, protests and clarifications to @PioVGarcia.

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