The TNT Katropa can’t seem to find the clear signal to victory against the San Miguel Beermen.
In the five games featuring both squads this season, all went to the Beermen’s favor. To stretch the agony of Manuel V. Pangilinan’s flagship PBA team, they are on an eight-game losing streak against their bitter corporate rival dating back to the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup semifinals which they lost, despite having a 3-2 advantage.
But of those eight defeats, the last two ones are the toughest to swallow. Despite being a third-seed, they were swept by San Miguel in the best-of-three quarterfinals to set-up a series against the Alaska Aces. The Katropa led by as much as 23 points in the first game but lost by 11. In Game Two, they gave everything the Beermen can handle but ended up short, 106-102.
With the Katropa still struggling to get over the hump despite getting another scorer in Terrence Romeo, head coach Nash Racela is on the hot seat. By dissecting their last two games alone, he was overcoached by San Miguel tactician Leo Austria.
Blitz and blunder in Game One
The Katropa raced off to a blistering start with a scorching performance from the perimeter from the likes of Anthony Semerad, Troy Rosario, RR Pogoy, and Terrence Romeo. But after staring at a 40-21 disadvantage after one quarter, the Beermen made necessary adjustments especially on defense. They dared the TNT shooters to keep converting their shots by using a 2-3 zone that neutralized inside threat Joshua Smith.
Because of the zone, the Beermen were playing the odds with the likes of Kelly Williams to shoot three pointers. It just so happened that the former league MVP knocked a bunch of them to keep the margin wide. But when they started to miss, San Miguel capitalized.
The zone also established that at least two men are shading Smith especially when he gets the ball in the paint. This defensive adjustment allowed San Miguel to narrow the gap to 14, 62-48. A see-saw battle ensued during the earlier part of the third quarter until a timeout was called with 5:56 left and TNT in front by 17, 78-61. From that point on, the Beermen scored 60 points while the Katropa can only muster 32.
TNT made known their intentions to file a protest against the game’s outcome but took it back later. Perhaps they realized that they lost not because of the huge discrepancy in free throws made and attempted. Rather, they had a difficult time breaking the zone. Their shots were not falling in the same manner as the first quarter, while Smith struggled against multiple defenders at once. On the other hand, the Beermen were able to space the floor well especially with June Mar Fajardo playing in the mid-range to draw Smith away.
The Katropa were exposed in Game Two
TNT did put up a great fight in the second game and even had a shot at winning. Yet, they fell short. Though Jayson Castro made a three-pointer that eventually tied the game, he only had seven points to his name. Roger Pogoy had 17 markers in first quarterfinal match but only had six in the do-or-die game. Austria made a terrific adjustment on defense by getting pressure from Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and even Arwind Santos against the guards.
San Miguel also ran a number of pick-and-roll plays off Smith to exploit his speed disadvantage. Because the Katropa import was often slow to either pop out or to rotate to his man, the Beermen had a number of open looks that resulted to baskets or free throw attempts. From the time Castro tied the game at 98 with 2:06 left, the Beermen were able to get eight free throws off the pick-and-roll, converting all of them. TNT was not able to stand their ground on defense knowing that it was coming and thus lost by a narrow margin.
The signal is ripe for a coaching change
The TNT Katropa had the players, especially the import, to defeat the Beermen. If Fajardo is playing mid-range, Smith can pummel the opposition inside to get buckets. Even the reigning four-time MVP had a hard time containing him alone. If the double team comes, then Smith must find the open man. They were not able to exploit this advantage and played from the outside in instead of playing inside out which gave them a better chance to win.
They had the Beermen on the ropes in Game One but were not able to adjust accordingly against the inevitable run. They were so close in Game Two but failed. Those are two winnable games that were squandered by mismanagement. Therefore, the current TNT coaching staff might not be connecting with the roster clearly. A reload must be initiated as soon as possible before they suffer more frustrating exits.