3x3 no easy grind

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

The PBA has so far held three legs in the first conference of its initial 3x3 league with rousing success. You couldn’t ask more from the players who’ve been giving it their all on the halfcourt. It’s a different game from 5x5. Action is fast and furious with no time to take a breather once on the floor. There’s a tendency to settle for outside shots when tongues start wagging but as the tournament progresses, players will learn to be more aggressive as they get used to the pace of the 10-minute contest.

What’s clear in the competition is the balance. TNT won the first leg, Meralco the second and Sista the third. Three different champions were crowned in three different legs, indicating the unpredictability of the outcome of every encounter. Surely, it’s a survival of the fittest. Once a team scores, the other team can put the ball in play after clearing the arc without a check so the tempo is unnerving. The shot clock is 12 seconds with no halftime and no quarters. A 30-second timeout is allowed per team.

About 30 players from the 13 battling teams are PBA veterans, some with lots of pro experience, others with minimal. They’re all trying to make a case for themselves that they deserve another look to play 5x5. PBA draftees who never made it are also out to prove they belong. A 3x3 player can’t be called up by a 5x5 team unless he’s released or his contract has expired but he must have passed through the draft. Physicality is a trademark of 3x3. Because the play is concentrated on a halfcourt, there’s a lot of banging, pushing and quick-step moves that defenders try to stop using fouls since nobody is disqualified on personals. Each team has a limit of six team fouls. The penalty for the seventh, eighth and ninth foul is two free throws and for the 10th foul or more, it’s two free throws plus ball possession. A player who commits two unsportsmanlike fouls is ejected. A technical foul counts as one team foul. An unsportsmanlike or disqualifying foul counts as two team fouls.

A 3x3 game requires a lot of strategy, first in matching up against opponents, second in how to play defense, third in how to use the clock, fourth in how to capitalize on the foul limit to advantage and fifth in how to execute the offense. If there’s a small player on the opposing team, you trigger a switch with a screen to create a mismatch or you simply bring the ball to the post to attack the defender. The players on a 3x3 lineup are positionless although it’s an advantage to enlist a mobile big who can seal or post up, rebound (you can score from an offensive rebound without clearing the ball) and pull the trigger from outside. Shooters with handles are an asset, too. A leg is finished in two days so it’s a challenge for the players to stay fit. TNT, for instance, played seven games in two days in winning the first leg. Meralco played six games in the second leg and Sista went unbeaten in six contests in the third.

The fourth leg begins on Saturday and will end the next day. It will also be a Saturday-Sunday schedule for the last two legs until the Grand Finals of the first conference on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. The first leg of the second conference will start Dec. 29. In all, the PBA will stage 18 legs split into three conferences up to the last Grand Finals on April 3.

Some players have been sidelined during the first three legs. Val Acuna suffered a broken jaw after a collision with Chris de Chavez, Mac Cardona went down with a shoulder injury from a Lervin Flores bang and Roider Cabrera collapsed in the dressing room following a game. Tournament director Joey Guanio said the good news is everyone involved in the games has tested negative for COVID.

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