24 October 2014

What The First Win Exposed?

It was a close encounter with a possible loss for the Meralco Bolts last 22 October 2014 as they barely survive the spirited attack from the Barako Bull squad and clawed their way to two overtimes enroute to a 112-108 win.

After the tip-off, the Energy Drink dominated the Bolts with Barako leading as much as 15 points in the first half. The Bolts would fight back all throughout the second half and could have taken the fight from Barako Bull, but threw those chances after a series of poorly designed and coordinated plays.

The Trio of Jumping Jelly Beans

Out of the 52 total rebounds, 60 percent came from the frontline composed of Reynel Hugnatan, Clifford Hodge and Sean Anthony. Hodge accounted for 16 of those rebounds as he finished the game in double-double, including his 10 points. Also worth noting is John Wilson, who may not have scored as much as he wanted to, only 13 points, but grabbed 8 rebounds in all.

This triumvirate of board bangers may not be that tall and will pale in comparison to those paraded by Barangay Ginebra, Purefoods Star and San Miguel, but they are so scrappy that they could switch places and cover their defensive holes with ease.

The scrappiness, the never-giving-up attitude and the ferocity to attack the basket can be best exemplified by the number of times they were fouled. No wonder the Bolts were awarded with 42 attempts at the free throw line, making 32 shots, while Barako only had 20 attempts and making 15 shots.

"It’s not about size for us. For most of us, we switched in multiple positions and we all play hard,” Hodge told InterAksyon.com after the game.

Precision Passing

The first game of the Bolts featured some of the best passing anyone will see from this team ffor probably some time. It's no surprise that the Bolts had 24 assists to the Energy Drinks’ mediocre 14. The ball movement by the Meralco big men is unmatchable by any team. Bigs such as Hodge, Anthony and James Sena look like point guards out there with the high-flying Hodge accounting for 5 assists.

Wilson made a very strong case for the league’s Most Improved Players by finishing with a balance output of 13 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. The way he is playing for three years now, he may pass Gary David as the primary offensive option of the team any time this year.

Jittery Guards

Mike Cortez may not be back to his playing form yet after an injury, but veteran is showing some signs of improvement and confidence already. What was missing is the commanding presence of a point guard after Cortez.

Simon Atkins and Phillip Morrison were supposed to inject youthful energy at the backcourt and off the bench, but what everyone saw was a group of guys that looked tired and gassed out. They appeared to be exhausted on defense and erratically impatient in running the team’s offense. Hence, it was not surprising to see the team threw a couple of possessions away courtesy of last-minute shots, missed layups and awkward execution of set plays.

Atkins may have shown a lot of promise by scoring 10 points, grabbing 3 rebounds and issuing 4 assists, but Morrison should really try to shake-off those rookie jitters, settle down and realize that he is a point guard designated to put everyone in their proper place before executing a play.

Coaching Brilliance

The coaching disparity has been a huge factor in this game. Meralco Head coach Norman Black has been creating matchup problems for which the Barako Bull has no answers. It's still alarming that Carlo Lastimosa has not been put into the starting lineup, while RR Garcia and Denok Miranda commit 5 errors between them. Lastimosa has shown some early promise by blowing pass various Meralco defenders to produce 6 points in just 12 minutes of play. Coach Koy Banal needs to make adjustments.

However, if the Bolts guards do not shape up soon, coach Black may have to resort to some extreme replacement soon. Putting Jared Dillinger at the point may create mismatches, but it won’t last long as teams adjust and rotate their defensive player to hound Dillinger from the inbound. And we’ve see how this turned out last season.

The way things are looking, only a few and very minor things will have to be addressed soon. The immediate thing to do is to keep the core tight and find out who are still available at the center and point-guard when the free agent market goes on sale.

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