Player A is 6 feet tall, weighs 200 pounds, and has never been in the NBA.
Player B is 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, an ex-NBA pro, and is averaging over 32 points a game in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on 48 percent shooting.
Player B is Al Thornton, but if you thought he would just have a field day against Player A, think again.
Sol Mercado took the initiative to ask Barako Bull head coach, Koy Banal, to put him on Thornton, and it worked for the Energy as he is one of the strongest PBA players, in spite of the size disadvantage against the taller Thornton.
“Sol told me in practice that he wanted to guard Thornton so I gave him [the greenlight]. I never talked to him about it. It was his idea,” Banal said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about. Desire and that is the starting point of every achievement. They showed the desire not to end the conference but to live another day.”
“It’s about having the initiative and taking the first step to grow, and Sol, with all his experience, just came in ready,” he added.
The NLEX Road Warriors import finished with 24 points on a disappointing seven-for-23 from the field, hoisting a lot of forced shots on one-on-one plays as he could not evade the defense of Mercado.
“He was the hottest import, so I told Coach I wanted to guard him, and I guess I did a good job,” Mercado shared. “He loves the perimeter and if you give him space, he can dictate, so just tried to cut him off. A simple jab and go, he’s tough. I just caught him on an off night.”
Mercado did not only take away Thornton’s ability to beat opponents off the dribble by staying in front of him with solid on-ball defense, he also limited him to his third lowest output in the conference and forced him to take wild shots.
Defending bigger players isn’t something new for Sol, who once defended Barako import Josh Dollard and Gabe Norwood back in the Philippine Basketball League. He added his on-ball defense is something to be proud of.
“I just wanted to compete and take on the battle of guarding the hottest import scoring-wise. It wasn’t just me. It was a collective effort. When [Thornton] was trying to post, I was trying to send him to Sol [Alabi].”
Player C is 0-for-4 from three point land. He is on the floor with under two minutes left and with his team down by two. Would you trust him to take the outside shot?
If your answer is no, then you’ve got a problem with Banal.
Chico Lanete nailed back to back triples as part of a crippling 8-0 run to end the ball game as the Energy shocked the Road Warriors, 91-85.
“Chico is a veteran that can be relied on down the stretch,” Banal emphasized. “Those triples were big for us and I am glad he was able to step up down the stretch.”
NLEX was still up, 85-83 before Lanete drilled two straight treys in consecutive possessions as the Energy moved the ball well against the NLEX zone.
Those shots were both contested, but Lanete still found a way to put them in. He finished with 13 points, while Mercado had 12 points and nine assists.
Together, the two formed a solid backcourt combination for the Energy, which they will need in the deeper stages of the playoffs should the team make it to that stage.
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