At the half, Gilas Pilipinas was down 36-44. By the time the buzzer ended, the team won the game 81-78.
A big part of the comeback didn’t happen on the floor, but in the locker room at halftime.
We usually think about South Korea as an outside shooting team, but on that day, they were taking it to us in the paint effectively and often. By my count, they made 10 out of 12 shots (83.3%) inside the paint and 8 out of 10 shots (80%) at the rim in the first half. Despite Gilas parading a center rotation composed of the 7’2 Kai Sotto and the 6’11 Ange Kouame, South Korea was having its way inside and this problem compounded and weakened the perimeter defense of the team as well.
The national team’s defense was overrun trying to defend the Koreans’ inside and outside attack, and it resulted in a pretty strong offensive showing in the first half for Korea.
That begs the question, how the heck did we win?
First Half Blues
The first half saw South Korea lead by as much as 17 points. Gilas’ offense started really slow and never really got rolling. The defense didn’t fare much better.
Ange was placed on the perimeter for the majority of the first half. With Ange on the perimeter, it was usually Justine Baltazar’s job to check Ra Gun-A (#20) with Ange helping on defense as needed. Safe to say, this spread our naturalized big man thin.
In the first clip, Kouame rotates to help Baltazar underneath. This leaves Kouame’s individual assignment, Lee Seonghyun (#33), open. Will Navarro rotates and this leads to an open shot for Nakhyeon Kim (#4). This is an example of a power play where an offensive player creates a numerical advantage for the rest of his team. This creates exploitable advantages for the Korean side and led to them shooting a good percentage from deep in the first half.
In the second clip on the video above, we see Kouame, again on the perimeter, guarding Junhyeong Byeon (#2). This isn’t his original assignment, but his role (as defensive helper), his location in the formation (being on the perimeter), and South Korea’s semi-transition attack forced him to defend Byeon. As soon as SJ Belangel got to the play, Ange quickly began to return to his assignment, Sangjae Kang (#13). Kang is a stretch big who has shot 33.4% from deep in his last four seasons in the KBL.
Kang exploits Ange’s momentum on the close-out and finishes a layup over Baltazar. This highlights two things regarding Gilas’ defense. First, with Ange on the perimeter, our rim protection is weak. Second, having Ange run all over the floor exposes his discomfort with deceleration and moving in stop-and-go situations
Beyond the schematic problem, the players just weren’t executing well enough. Rotations were a step or half a step late, closeouts were sloppy, and the Koreans made makeable shots. In this play, Lee Seonghyun (#33) took advantage of Nieto hopping into a closeout, then stepped into a midrange two. It should be noted that hopping into closeouts is generally not a good idea, especially if you land flat-footed on the floor.
This helps you decelerate, but it also kills your momentum and makes it hard for you to change direction. The hop was enough for Lee to blow by his man and pull up for the automatic two points.
Second Half Post-Baldwin Dressing Down Bliss
I don’t know what Tab told the boys in the locker room. I don’t know if he pierced them with a heavy rattling of expletives or if he calmly explained what they were going to do to adjust. I don’t know the exact names of the schemes he wanted them to run nor do I know what the points of emphasis were.
Right now, we’re trying to divine Tab’s infinite basketball wisdom and guess at what he had his players do in the second half. All I can definitively say is whatever it was, it worked.
Ange was moved inside and he was usually directly defending Ra. In this play, you see how good Ange is in drop coverage. Seonghyun Lee (#33) tries to set an off-ball screen on Ange presumably to get him to switch out with Baltazar. Kouame doesn’t concede the switch and sticks with Ra. He simultaneously covers Ra and contains Nakhyeon Kim (#4).
This allows Belangel to recover and contest the midrange pull-up. This is a win-condition in drop coverage. You would absolutely take a contested midrange shot as opposed to a layup in close.
Ange on Ra also removes the need to send hard (or even soft) doubles at the Korean big man. Kouame can play him straight and handle his physicality with minimal help. This prevents the defensive breakdowns we saw in the first half when Ange would come help while Ra posts up Baltazar. Without these breakdowns, helping and recovering for closeouts is much easier for the perimeter defenders. In this clip, we see how the five players on the floor stick to their man and how easy the closeout is for Will Navarro.
Beyond Ange matching up against Ra, the biggest change is simply executing better and being sharper with recoveries and help. Here, we see a pair of great closeouts from Navarro and Baltazar. In the first clip, it’s Navarro showing a terrific understanding of his role. Specifically, he knows when to help and when the exact moment he should recover for a closeout. His length really helps as well. In the second clip, Baltazar just does a good job of being aware of his surroundings and making a play in time. It’s this execution that led to better contests on deep balls.
This is by far the best defensive possession the whole game. I would give the most credit to Dwight Ramos not just because he was the defender on the shot, but because of his understanding of defensive concepts.
After Nieto made the great closeout to force Hongseok Yang (#11) to pass, he makes way to contest a potential shot from Seonggon Moon (#10). Isaac Go makes a timely rotation to which Moon reacts with an extra pass to Junhyeong Byeon (#2). Usually, this is where Gilas gets killed. Either the player who should have made the rotation comes in late or chooses not to come at all. But, Ramos recognized what was happening as soon as he saw Go rotate. This ability to process defensive rotations in a matter of seconds requires a player to be really smart. Ramos makes the right read and he makes a tremendous contest on the shot forcing the miss.
In the end, the comeback in the second half required adjustments from the best tactician in the country, along with terrific execution from his players. It was a great plan brought to fruition by players who gave their all to get the win. The players put faith in the plan and put it to work. Why wouldn’t they trust in the plan made by the guy who transformed Ateneo into an undefeatable juggernaut and put them in a position to be competitive against one of the best teams in Asia?
After all, it’s BaldWIN, not BaldLOSE. I’m sorry for the pun.