25 October 2016

How The Bolts Neutralized KaTropa's Size Advantage?

Bolts vs KaTropa
Before the Meralco Bolts reached the Finals of the 2016 PBA Governor's Cup, where they lost to Barangay Ginebra in six games, the team of coach Norman Black had to contend with the strongest team on paper, the Talk 'N Text KaTropa.

With most of its player representing the country in international competitions led by Asia's Best Pointguard, Jayson Castro, nobody was surprised when they immediately bulldozed their way to a 11-1 record entering the semifinals.

Like a well-oiled machine, the KaTropa were an offensive juggernaut as they orchestrated one blowout after another until they met the Meralco Bolts in a best-of-five series.

Player-for -player, the KaTropa was the clear winner. If their bench production is included in the calculation, nobody in their right mind would think that the Bolts will survive the impending onslaught. Game 1 was a clear indication of how capable KaTropa can eliminate any resistance from Meralco as they outrebounded, outhustled and outscored their opponent to post a convincing 113-95 win.

However, the win appears to be the last one TNT will enjoy before they got waylaid in three succeeding games. The first time they suffered back-to-back-to-back losses this conference which led to their unexpected exit from contention.

Meralco won Games 2, 3 and 4, which gave them their first trip to the Finals after acquiring the Sta. Lucia Realtors franchise in 2010. It was also a sweet comeback after the Bolts were burned in the All-Filipino Cup and suffered a humiliating 1-10 record.

"We lost the game, the series. We just go back to the drawing board and look forward to the next conference," TNT head coach Jong Uichico told reporters after Game 4.

"We did very well in the elimination round, but at the end of the day, it’s how you finish. But, of course, we always want to have a good start."

How did the Meralco Bolts accomplish that under the leadership of coach Norman Black who is only on his second year with the team?

The short answer is hustle. There is no more appropriate proxy indicator of the gritty Meralco stand than their hustle.

In Game 1 of the series, TNT dominated all aspects of the game from rebounding, assists and field goal percentage.

Games 2, 3 and 4 were a different matter. The Bolts were still no matched against the heft and build of KaTropa formidable frontline, but they more than made for it in other areas.

In Game 2, the Bolts were able to move the ball around more just to find somebody open that allowed them to shoot 50.6 percent from the floor. It was a masterful move by coach Black to utilize the veteran Reynel Hugnatan more than the younger Bryan Faundo as the former kept the Bolts focused and determined.

In Game 3, the Bolts showed that it wants this game more than the TNT and they made a strong statement to their opponent. The message was clear: despite being outmanned, the Bolts can match KaTropa point-by-point.

Meralco stood firmly for three quarters before delivering the final nail in the coffin by shooting 61.0 percent from the rainbow territory. Hugnatan shot 5-of-6 from long-distance, while Chris Newsome delivered two thunderous dunks that exposed the vulnerability of TNT.

Game 4 was a grind and Meralco showed that it is willing to fight a protracted battle of will even during their not-so good night by limiting KaTopa to only 40.0 percent shooting from the floor, their lowest in this series. The Bolts did not do better by shooting only 44.0 percent, but it was just one of those nights that Cliff Hodge won't denied a victory as he single-handedly trampled his way to 32 points, his career high.

In all four games, the Bolts has shown that despite being outrebounded all the time, they can still dominate other aspects of the game, especially the hustling and jostling part.

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