Perime­ter a key zone in Fi­nals

The Philippine Star - - SPORTS - By JOAQUIN HEN­SON

The op­pos­ing coaches in the PBA Gov­er­nors Cup Fi­nals agree that the perime­ter is a sa­cred zone where if Mer­alco is able to hit from the out­side con­sis­tently, the Bolts could run away with the tro­phy. But if Barangay Gine­bra puts the shack­les on Mer­alco’s ri­fle­men, it could be the other way around.

“No doubt, our bigs will have to ex­tend to the perime­ter in this se­ries,” said Gine­bra coach Tim Cone. “Mer­alco’s lead­ing the league in three-point field goal per­cent­age so we’ll have to work hard to get back in tran­si­tion and lo­cate their shoot­ers.”

Cone said when Gine­bra beat Mer­alco, 4-2, in the Gov­er­nors Cup Fi­nals last sea­son, the Bolts played with­out Jared Dillinger, Mike Tolo­mia and Ranidel de Ocampo. Dillinger was out with a ham­string in­jury, Tolo­mia hadn’t turned pro and De Ocampo was still with TNT. Now, the three are prom­i­nent fig­ures in Mer­alco coach Norman Black’s ro­ta­tion. Another perime­ter gun­ner Garvo Lanete hadn’t crossed over from NLEX.

“Tolo­mia, who can shoot it, has taken the place of Jimmy (Ala­pag) and along with Dillinger, brings a lot of perime­ter play,” said Cone. “Plus, De Ocampo has al­ways been a big-shot maker in big mo­ments and he’s re­ally the pre­mier big man shooter in the league. All three of those guys add in­cred­i­ble depth and ver­sa­til­ity to their lineup.”

Another cause for Cone’s con­cern is Mer­alco’s re­bound­ing abil­ity. “They’re the No. 1 re­bound­ing team in the league in terms of re­bound­ing mar­gin,” he said. “They do a great job of us­ing their quick­ness to get to the boards. Then, they have (Allen) Durham who sim­ply is a beast to guard and keep off the boards. They’re for­mi­da­ble.”

Black said he’ll lean heav­ily on Dillinger and De Ocampo to make a dif­fer­ence. “They’re help­ing the over­all per­for­mance of the team,” said Black. “They’re both floor spac­ers so they should also help open up the floor for AD (Durham). They’re good de­fend­ers so they fit right into our per­son­al­ity as a team. It helps that they have cham­pi­onship ex­pe­ri­ence and have been through many Fi­nals wars.” Dillinger has won five ti­tles and De Ocampo, six – all with TNT.

Black said a pri­or­ity for Mer­alco is to con­trol the de­fen­sive boards. “We must limit their sec­ond chance points to have a good chance of win­ning the crown,” he said. “We must also shoot well from the perime­ter be­cause they pro­tect the paint well with their size.” Gine­bra is No. 1 in sec­ond chance points, av­er­ag­ing 17.6 points, but Mer­alco is No. 1 in least sec­ond chance points al­lowed with 10.1.

Black said tempo isn’t a big deal with Mer­alco. “I’m not re­ally con­cerned about the tempo of the game be­cause we’ve proved that we can win games in the 80s or the 100-point range,” he said. Mer­alco, how­ever, has made more of an im­pact on de­fense as in its 12 wins lead­ing to the Fi­nals, the Bolts gave up an av­er­age of only 85.8 points but in three losses, the norm went up to 101.7. Of­fen­sively, Mer­alco av­er­aged 98.8 points in 12 wins and 97.3 in three set­backs. In con­trast, Gine­bra hit at a 107.6 clip in 12 wins but only 92.3 in four de­feats. So the ap­par­ent trend shows that Gine­bra wins with of­fense and Mer­alco with de­fense.

Iron­i­cally, in the bat­tle to con­trol the perime­ter, Mer­alco must dom­i­nate of­fen­sively and Gine­bra must coun­ter­act de­fen­sively de­spite their con­trast­ing ori­en­ta­tion. It’s one of the in­trigu­ing ironies of the se­ries and why the Fi­nals are a 50-50 propo­si­tion be­cause any­thing can hap­pen with both cere­bral coaches mak­ing un­pre­dictable ad­just­ments along the way.

Black, 59, has won 11 PBA ti­tles with three dif­fer­ent fran­chises and five UAAP crowns with Ate­neo. He hasn’t claimed a tro­phy since steer­ing TNT to the All-Filipino Cup in 201213 and Mer­alco hasn’t bagged a cham­pi­onship since join­ing the league in 2010-11.

“It’s al­ways spe­cial to be in the Fi­nals be­cause you’re never sure when you’ll en­ter,” said Black. “My feel­ing is ev­ery­one wants to win for the Mer­alco com­mu­nity and (Mer­alco se­nior vice pres­i­dent/PBA gover­nor/SBP pres­i­dent) Al Panlilio es­pe­cially as this would be the first cham­pi­onship for the Bolts in the PBA.”

Cone, 59, is the win­ningest coach in PBA his­tory with 19 cham­pi­onships. He’s a twotime Grand Slam cham­pi­onship coach with San Mig Cof­fee in 21013-14 and Alaska in 1996 while Black cap­tured a Grand Slam with San Miguel Beer in 1989. Cone’s last cham­pi­onship came in the pre­vi­ous Gov­er­nors Cup and he’s de­ter­mined to re­tain the crown.

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