By now, the narrative about the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters goes like this:
“They have such a high-powered offense.”
“TNT remains to be one of the top offensive teams in the history, probably, of the PBA.”
“It’s always offense versus defense when you face TNT.”
Okay, we get it. They probably didn’t have the stats to support those statements then (and probably won’t even take a look at it now, please don’t change), but in reality, when a team has a Castro, De Ocampo, Fonacier, Washington, and Kevin Alas on the bench, what else can you call them?
Did you know that for all the big names on the offensive end, the Tropang Texters still operate at a middling pace? For the elimination round, TNT just had a pace of 91.1, almost making it to the league average of 91.6. Opposite them, the Rain or Shine Elastopainters are operating at a better 96.3, one of the top paces.
Translate that into actual offensive numbers, TNT’s 91.1 pace generates the 2nd best offense with a 104.0 ortg, a full 1.1 points behind the NLEX Road Warriors. In the playoffs, the Texters took an already vaunted offense to a higher gear, as they have been registering a 111.3 ortg, while still operating at, give or take, the same pace (90.6).
Can you say “insane?”
But that’s not it. What’s highly unusual is that the team has not played its full offensive arsenal for the past game or two. In other words, they aren’t using their potential for that matter. They’ve been trotting out a line-up that features Harvey Carey, who is a black hole on offense in terms of how much offensive threat and defensive attention he can generate. Yes, he can slip through people underneath, and that’s his best trick, but in a title game? It is a risk, and one heck of a gamble. Here’s TNT’s most potent lineup, offensively speaking, and must play a huge part in the clincher:
G – Jayson Castro/Kevin Alas
G – Larry Fonacier
F – Ranidel De Ocampo
F – Ivan Johnson
F – Jay Washington/Kelly Williams
See, the thing with this position-less five, no true center, nor power forward in the vernacular sense, is that they can run 4-out-1-in sets and Horns set the other team to death. This tactic paved the way to exposing the RoS defense, no matter how vaunted their physicality is.
However, there’s just one problem: Jong Uichico intends on keeping the ball in Castro’s hand as an initiator of the offense until the last moment. All the damn time. I get it, we get it! Castro’s like Derrick Rose, needing the leather to function, but I think it’s better if Uichico mixes it up where The Blur can read defenses away from it, just to throw a steel chair at Yeng Guiao’s schemes. Take the ball out of Castro’s hands, work him off all over the floor, command the attention of the entire defense, but only for short bursts.
In the end, RoS will be left guessing: where will Castro cut? Where will he receive a pin-down? Or a down screen? Will he get a double stagger only to have three guys on him with two open guys waiting for a cherry picking? Those kinds of scenarios are pretty much what makes the brain toast. Pretty much how TNT ran them to the ground in Game 5.
What then must they do in order to use Castro like Kerr’s version of Stephen Curry? Let’s check one of the sets the Warriors run with Curry off the ball and put it in TNT’s championship hands. How about we start with that pretty simple 3-1 back screen:
As the diagram suggests, the 1-3 action, we have RoS heads swivelled on Castro, with the initiator of the offense, able to get a bee-line on the hoop for an easy backdoor deuce, as we like to call it. Pretty simple right? But wait, there’s more. Anticipating a complete denial of this, and TNT being TNT, it’s time to turn it into a misdirection play:
That looks like an ugly pile up, but hey, Castro is still off the ball, so let’s continue:
When they run the pin-down to pop the initiator, the screener immediately sets a seal to utilize all that space underneath to turn someone into barbecued chicken. TNT, however, will want Castro to end up with the ball, and end up with it they will get, or die trying:
We’ve seen how this can be finished. Being off the ball, Castro has chances to make a dive at the basket (which he will do), continue holding his post (and bury a three in the process), or grab the attention of almost three guys (his man, Fonacier’s and De Ocampo’s) to try and bump them off (what happens usually is RDO stabbing a three ball off a kick out). So this nifty little curl action to free him, and get a fourth and fifth guy on his radar to deny the drive was huge (pretty much how Ivan Johnson got some gimmes in Game 5):
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! TNT can throw in a Horns-y set that takes Castro off the ball, and has everyone zooming in on him, while he confuses and throws the D off their heels? Here’s how they should set it up:
Isn’t it pretty simple to try and fake a hand-off while going for a pin-down that gives you an opportunity to abuse all the space when you are lightning-quick? But hey, more chaos ensues (and this messes up the entire effort of RoS):
Fonacier, one of the best two-way guards out there, has to make himself THE threat by going on a baseline sprint to the strong side via a double baselinecross- screen between Castro and RDO. At the same time, Johnson starts to make his way to the low block. Man, you must’ve thought: that’s messy, in a championship clincher? But wait… what is that?!
By all that is holy, Fonacier only served as a decoy, taking everyone’s attention. He’s a hand down-man down kind of guy, just so you know. But let’s focus on Castro. He got off the pin-down and all hell breaks loose:
As soon as Castro receives the ball, the back-screener of RDO has to double time to set up a quick Pick ‘N Pop to unclog the lane and expose the defense. Look at all the space they got here.
The Texters’ offense has to get supercharged by taking the ball off Castro’s hands for short bursts in the game. It will make him read the defense without the leather bouncing against his palm, letting the others set the table for their best weapon. That will definitely curb-stomp Rain or Shine’s title hopes.
Do it, and enjoy the champagne afterwards.
Fail, and they face a lot of what-ifs.
Stats are culled from Humblebola