TNT detonates with defense

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Offensively, TNT hasnt been impressive as a team in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup, ranking No. 7 in average points (86.0), No. 8 in total field goal percentage (39.2), No. 11 in three point field goal percentage (25.3) and No. 11 in assists (16.2). Not a single Tropang Giga player is shooting at least 50 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line. Second-leading scorer R. R. Pogoy is hitting a so-so 36.4 percent from the field and Jayson Castro, who has shot over 80 percent from the stripe in four of his 12 previous seasons, is stroking at a 75.9 clip.

But coach Chot Reyes is doing something right for TNT to vault straight to the top of the standings with an 8-1 record. Its not on the offensive end for sure. If you check out TNTs defensive stats, youll find out why Gigas lording it over the rest of the pack. TNT is No. 1 in points allowed (76.8), No. 2 in least total field goal percentage allowed (37.1), No. 1 in least three point field goal percentage allowed (22), No. 1 in opponentsturnovers (19.3), No. 1 in turnover points (22.8) and No. 1 in steals (9.9). Because Giga is tops in forcing opponentsturnovers, TNT gets a lot of fastbreak opportunities and its No. 2 in transition points (12). TNT, however, isnt relying on fastbreaks to win. If it did, the teams field goal percentage should be high with all those easy layups. Reyes just keeps things under control at his pace, knowing the PBAs schedule can be grueling. TNT, for instance, played three contests in five days last week. Besides, Reyes plays a deliberate, calculated, defense-oriented game.

Reyes knows that to play consistent defense, the troops cant be pushed to exhaustion, meaning rotation is critical. Its why nine Giga players are averaging at least 15 minutes a game, six at least 23. Its also why seven players have started in nine games and Castro has come off the bench in every contest to preserve him for crucial stretches. Reyes has alternated Brian Heruela and Kib Montalbo at point guard in his first five because they set the tone with their in-your-face pressure defense. Heruela started the first seven games and Montalbo, the last two.

Rookie Mikey Williams sat out TNTs first game and got off to a slow beginning but in his last six outings, has averaged 18.5 points. Williams erupted for 36 in TNTs 100-85 romp over NLEX and 27 in Gigas 88-67 demolition of Barangay Ginebra last Sunday. Hes the teams leading scorer, averaging 17.9 points in 33.4 minutes. His stats belie the fact that hes a rookie. Hes also averaging four rebounds and 3.1 assists. Aside from Williams, three others are averaging in double figure points, Pogoy (13), Troy Rosario (10.6) and Castro (10.3).

Kelly Williamsreemergence has also been a factor. Hes averaging 6.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 25.4 minutes as Reyesinterior defensive anchor. Poy Erram is his chief reliever and hes averaging 7.2 points and 6.8 rebounds so the balance is perfect at the five spot. If the backcourt is secure with depth, so is the frontline. Mikey is a fixture at three but Glenn Khobuntin can fill in and Pogoy can move up if Reyes plays small. For insurance, Reyes still has Ryan Reyes and Ping Exciminiano for defense, Jay-Jay Alejandro for instant offense and Dave Marcelo for muscle. The road to the finals is still a long way but TNT looks like its headed in the right direction.

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