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From the Block: Can TNT’s offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops?


It took a bit longer than expected, but we’ve finally reached the starting line of the 2021 PBA Governors’ Cup playoffs, where the real title contenders will finally look to separate themselves from the rest of the pack once the quarterfinals tip-off on Wednesday.

In this space, we’ll be taking a quick look at every team battling to advance to the semifinals – how their conference has gone so far, any lingering concerns they’ll have to address, and a peek at their import’s performance and the locals to monitor moving forward.

We’re continuing our mini-series with the No. 3 vs. No. 6 clash slated on Wednesday, 6:00 p.m, between the TNT Tropang Giga (7-4), who are shooting for a ‘mini-Grand Slam’ of sorts with a second straight title this year, and Barangay Ginebra (6-5), a team trying to defend the crown it won over two years ago.

Numbers are courtesy of ‘Stats by Ryan’ – an advanced stats database managed by stats guru Ryan Alba that will soon be published on Tiebreaker Times.

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-TNT-vs-Blackwater-Chot-Reyes From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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No. 3 TNT (7-4)

Offensive Rating: 109.3 (5th)

Defensive Rating: 101.6 (2nd)

Net Rating: 7.8 (3rd)

WHAT HAS WORKED SO FAR: Defense

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-TNT-vs-San-Miguel-JP-Erram From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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TNT’s hot shooting from three-point range is what first comes to mind when people talk about the Tropang Giga, but their defensive acumen has been generally under-discussed this conference (and for the whole year, for that matter).

Teams have posted a 47.7 Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) when playing against TNT – over two percentage points below league average – as opposing offenses have failed to get a decent rhythm going for the most part. Possessions feel rushed at the fear of crumbling under the pressure of the Tropang Giga’s switching or hedging, which often result in deflections and turnovers; only one squad has posted a higher steal rate than TNT, and teams are turning it over 15.1 percent of the time on their possessions – the third-highest mark.

Of course, TNT has turned those miscues into easy points, ranking second in points off turnovers (19.6) after 11 games, helping fuel a deliberate offense that has run at the second-slowest pace this conference.

TNT benefits from having defenders who, while aren’t always incredibly exceptional man-to-man stoppers on every possession, are smart and savvy enough to have their strengths be highlighted in a team scheme. After the elimination round, four guys – Ryan Reyes, Jayson Castro, Kib Montalbo, and Gab Banal – all have spots inside the top 10 in steal rate. (Reyes, Castro and Montalbo have tallied over a steal per game; Banal swipes 1.8 per 36 minutes.)

Then there’s the rim protection. TNT is second in raw blocks (4.8) but has swatted a larger percentage of shots (9.0 percent of opponent field goals) than any other team thanks to some sturdy work from import Aaron Fuller (more on him later), Poy Erram (1.5 blocks per 36 minutes, 13th in the PBA) and even Roger Pogoy (1.0 per contest after 11 games).

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CONCERN: Can the offense hold up?

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-TNT-vs-Northport-Mikey-Williams From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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That seems like a silly question since TNT has Mikey Williams, an absolute flamethrower currently firing over 10.5 3s a game on his way to what could be the league’s second Rookie of the Year/MVP season. He’s not hyper-efficient (21.4 points on 42/33.9/81.5 splits, 53.7 True Shooting Percentage or TS%), but he’s a problem-solver – a fearsome and unparalleled, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency bucket-getter in today’s PBA.

But the Tropang Giga will be forced to answer this question at times in the heat of the playoffs, and especially if teams somehow find solutions to corral Mikey. Will Castro – averaging under 25 minutes for the second straight conference – be able to log more minutes? Will Pogoy (14.5 points, 36.5/13.9/62.5 splits, 42.2 TS%) break out of his slump? Can TNT, dead-last in free throws attempted and 11th in free throw rate, get to the line enough to salvage points?

HOW’S THE IMPORT?

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-TNT-vs-San-Miguel-Aaron-Fuller From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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Fuller (16.9 points on 52.4 percent shooting, 17.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 blocks, 39.3 minutes in 8 games) is no Justin Brownlee or Mike Harris, but he doesn’t have to be; on a TNT team that has the league’s preeminent microwave scorer in Williams, as well as a host of other scoring guns just waiting to erupt, the 32-year-old veteran, who is behind three other Tropang Giga players in usage, has all the leeway in the world to play the game his own way.

That means focusing on what he does best: keeping everyone off the glass while being a formidable deterrent at the rim. Fuller is the best rebounder in the PBA today, leading the league in percentage of offensive (16.1 percent) and defensive (32.1) rebounds grabbed. (His total rebounding percentage, 24 percent, is over three percentage points higher than the second-best player in Harris!) In terms of rim protection, only Almazan and KJ McDaniels have posted higher block rates than Fuller.

He’s not the shiniest name out there and he’s not without flaws, but Fuller’s been a great fit and has gotten the job done.

LOCALS TO WATCH: Jayson Castro and Ryan Reyes

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-Alaska-vs-TNT-Jayson-CASTRO From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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As mentioned earlier, Castro’s minutes may be something worth monitoring. Is coach Chot Reyes preserving ‘The Blur’ for a deep playoff run, or is this the new norm? Will he be tempted to give his veteran star more minutes when it really comes down to it?

Castro’s recent conferences have been a bit uneven, but he’s killed it in short bursts this tournament. In 11 games off the bench, he’s averaged 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 turnovers in just 24.8 minutes, tallying shooting splits of 47.9/37.5/92.5 splits for a 62.1 TS% — a career-high in any conference from his decorated 13-year career. It would be interesting to see whether or not he keeps up that type of efficiency with more minutes.

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There should be more discussions about Ryan Reyes (6.6 points on 51.1/51.4/87.5 splits, 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 steals in only 17.6 minutes), because he’s still so good. He’ll never play heavy minutes at this stage in his career, sure, but the 38-year-old is still the barometer for 3-and-D forwards in the PBA; for the conference, he leads the league in 3s among players who have attempted at least three triples (51.4 percent) and also in TS% (74.2; minimum six games, 15 minutes). He’s also second in steal rate (3.3 percent). Not too shabby.

Reyes has the build and the wits to bother (but not shut down) Brownlee in the series, and he also torched Ginebra to the tune of 24 points and eight triples when they met last month. He may be in line for more minutes in the playoffs.

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-NLEX-vs-Ginebra-Tim-Cone From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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No. 6 GINEBRA (6-5)

Offensive Rating: 111 (3rd)

Defensive Rating: 112.8 (10th)

Net Rating: -1.8 (8th)

WHAT HAS WORKED SO FAR: The offense

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-Terrafirma-vs-Ginebra-Japeth-Aguilar From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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Ginebra’s offense this conference has rebounded from a pretty dismal showing in the previous Philippine Cup, where the team managed to cobble together just 95.1 points per 100 possessions (10th). With coach Tim Cone sprinkling more ball screens and staggering the minutes of big men Japeth Aguilar and Christian Standhardinger, there’s better flow and more variety; the Gin Kings are currently second in eFG% — one of the many indications of a smooth-running offense — and second in percentage of shots assisted.

They still don’t attempt a ton of 3s (28.7 attempts, 8th), but they’re hitting them at a decent rate (33.2 percent, 5th). Ginebra, 11th in free throw attempts the last conference, has also gotten to the line more and are fourth in free throw rate, though it would serve them well if they hit them more frequently (69.1 percent on foul shots, 8th).

A lot of these positives can be traced to having an offensive Swiss Army knife at the 3/4 slots in Justin Brownlee (more on him later), but it also helps that Standhardinger has found some sort of rhythm again. After a pair of conferences where he shot under 50 percent from the field, the Fil-German bruiser (15.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 32.7 minutes) is up to 58.5 percent shooting this tournament.

Ginebra is also salvaging a lot more points through second-chance points, but we’re saving that for a later discussion here in this very same piece.

CONCERN: Will they make enough stops?

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-Meralco-vs-Ginebra-Chris-Banchero-x-Nard-Pinto From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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The last PBA team to win a title with a below-average defense was San Miguel in the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup, where they managed to run a league-worst defense on their way to winning the midseason tournament. Since then, the next three champions have bannered at least a top-five defense.

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That may spell trouble for Ginebra’s title defense. Right now, no playoff team has been worse on defense than the Gin Kings, who are a bottom-three team in defensive efficiency – just behind usual suspects Terrafirma and Blackwater. Opposing teams barely feel the heat and are shooting 47 percent from the field, the second-highest mark; they’re also killing Ginebra from deep with the good looks that they are being given, as they have drained 36.1 percent on 33.1 attempts – both figures the second-highest, too.

One possible culprit: their transition defense. About 14.3 percent of Ginebra’s possessions end in a turnover, the third-worst mark, which, of course, then leads to easy scoring opportunities on the other end. Against a TNT team that has made a living out of pouncing on their opponents’ miscues this conference, that will be a problem.

HOW’S THE IMPORT?

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-Ginebra-vs-Blackwater-Justin-Brownlee From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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As expected, Brownlee is doing his thing yet again.

The 33-year-old reinforcement has energized the previously tepid Ginebra offense, churning out 28.6 points (51.5/37.2/88.5 splits), 10.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks in 43.7 minutes. This is his most efficient season PBA yet; his 63.0 TS% is first by far among imports, a product of comfort and familiarity from playing in a league where he has won four titles.

Brownlee also continues to stake his claim as the best passing import of his generation. Aside from leading all reinforcements in raw assists, he’s also led them in assist percentage, assisting on 24.7 percent of his teammates’ field goals (Brownlee is 12th in the PBA today among all players in that metric).

LOCAL TO WATCH: Scottie Thompson

2021-22-PBA-Governors-Cup-Rain-or-Shine-vs-Ginebra-Scottie-Thompson From the Block: Can TNT's offense hold up or can Ginebra make the crucial stops? Bandwagon Wire Basketball News  - philippine sports news

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Thompson (12.8 points on 48.3/30.6/69 splits, 9.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 2.5 turnovers in 36.8 minutes) is still impacting the game in all aspects, but he’s doing everything while showing legitimate growth as a passer. His assist totals would surpass his career-high, and he’s doing that while turning the ball less; his 17.6 percent turnover rate would be a career-low.

His impact, though, is still most felt in – you guessed it – rebounding. Ginebra is third in offensive rebound rate and sixth in defensive rebound percentage even as they rank 10th overall in raw rebounds, in large part because Thompson continues to be a magnet for misses; he has grabbed 10.7 percent of his team’s missed shots, a mark that not only leads all guards but is also eighth in the PBA – a spot usually reserved for the most active of big men. That, in turn, has given Ginebra extra opportunities; the team is fourth so far in second-chance points at 16.0.

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Written By

Amateur stats and film enthusiast. Let’s talk hoops on Twitter (@erosvillanueva_)


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