At the start of the Talk ‘N Text-Purefoods PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinals series, we previewed that the Tropang Texters usually win by simply outscoring their foes. If they want to win against an equally talented offensive team which also possesses one of the best defenses in the league, they have to get the job done on the defensive end.
The Star Hotshots took Game 1 using premium execution down the stretch, moving well without the ball to score easy and uncontested baskets.
It was at this point when Talk ‘N Text realized that unless they get some stops, they will not emerge victorious even if they wax hot offensively.
This was the problem that coach Jong Uichico tried solving the following game, going with a giant frontline that consisted of three bigs, instead of the usual two bigs plus a swingman, to counter Tim Cone’s huge lineup (Purefoods usually starts with James Yap-PJ Simon-Joe Devance-Marc Pingris-Denzel Bowles).
The troika of Ivan Johnson, Jay Washington, and Ranidel de Ocampo went on to start in each of the last three games, and those matches all led to wins for the Tropang Texters.
Talk ‘N Text put a bigger defender in Johnson on Pingris, and it neutralized the latter’s role as a reader or post threat on offense. In addition, Washington guarded Bowles, while De Ocampo stopped Devance.
During the three-game span (Games 2 to 4), Uichico’s backcourt rotation had Jayson Castro and Larry Fonacier as starters, with Aaron Aban and Kevin Alas coming off the bench.
Talk ‘N Text succeeded as they had a unit with length, while not sacrificing space as all of the players on the floor can hit from the outside. With the tremendous size, the Tropang Texters were able to play better defense, bothered passing lanes, avoided getting beaten on backdoor cuts, and controlled the boards with Johnson staying underneath.
The communication on switching was also on-point and that reduced the number of baskets taken by the Star Hotshots without resistance.
“I think our chemistry has become better offensively and defensively as a team,” Washington said after Talk ‘N Text ended the semifinals series in four games. “Our focus is on the playoffs and every game we tried to improve our rotations and every aspect where we can get better.”
In Game 4 particularly, Purefoods only had eight assists, their lowest output in the series, and shot 25-for-67 from the field. James Yap had a miserable night as Aban and Fonacier took turns in hounding him. Yap finished with only two points on one-for-eight shooting, and was a minus-23 on the floor.
In contrast, the Johnson-De Ocampo-Washington trio were plus-28 when all three were on the floor at the same time. Johnson played 44 minutes in the series clincher; De Ocampo played 39, while Washington played close to 34. On offense, the three bigs complemented Castro, who would dish to either of the three whenever the defense collapsed.
“I am very impressed with the way Jayson played all conference long. He always makes the right plays on the floor, and it is not necessarily hitting the shot, but finding the open guys and knowing when to take over,” Washington said.
Talk ‘N Text’s 3-big frontcourt rotation Games 2 thru 4:
Ivan Johnson – 19 PPG, 16.3 RPG
Jay Washington – 11.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG
Ranidel de Ocampo – 13.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG
“Playing three bigs was trying to match up with them because that’s how they play but it was an advantage, as we had a lot of guys who can spread the floor. We were not afraid to go that route, and the fact that we can play that way (with three bigs), everybody’s got the same size, and it makes it a lot easier for us defensively,” Washington added.
Uichico’s group succeeded in overcoming a huge obstacle and a championship-tested team with solid effort on the defensive end, more than getting sensational numbers from their offensive weapons in the series.
Purefoods’ offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), effective field goal percentage, and assists from Games 2 thru 4 were all below the team’s average output, and this was all because of the Tropang Texters’ defense. From being no. 7 in the elimination round, they have become the no. 3 defensive team among clubs, which made the playoffs.
Against a team like Rain or Shine, which also boosts one of the league’s best offenses, the Tropang Texters will surely need to get the job done defensively.
As the old adage goes, defense wins championships. Talk ‘N Text has proven they do not only outscore teams, but also pull off crucial stops. And now, they are four more wins from returning to the top of the podium.