TNT’s Misfiring Shooters are Making SMB’s Zone Defense Look Really Good

Original photos via PBA Images

Having won the opener of their 2021 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series against the San Miguel Beermen, the TNT Tropang Giga rode that momentum and looked really good in the first quarter of Game 2 on Wednesday.

The key actions in TNT’s half-court sets were to always put San Miguel big man June Mar Fajardo in a tough position to defend the pick-and-pop. The Tropang Giga always involved Fajardo’s individual assignment as the screener — in this case, Poy Erram. Erram is not one of the best shooters out there, as he is only making 30.3% of his three-point shots this conference, but he is a willing launcher, and Fajardo had to respect that by stepping outside and putting a hand on Erram’s attempts.

TNT ran a lot of two-man game with Erram in the opening quarter, with the latter always finding himself wide-open. You can see one instance of this TNT pick-and-pop play in the clip below.

Look at how open Erram was. 

Erram finished with 20 points and hit two triples last night, and although he did not make some of his open opportunities, his willingness to launch outside forced Fajardo to close out, leaving the paint area unguarded.

So with Fajardo having to step outside to defend Erram’s jumpshot, TNT then proceeded to take advantage of San Miguel’s non-existent interior defense. In the clip below, you’ll see TNT rookie Mikey Williams using another Erram pick to lure Fajardo away from the paint. 

It was a nice lefty finish for the right-handed Williams, but that was made easier by the fact that literally no one is guarding the paint for the Beermen. With Fajardo lured away by Erram, and Arwind Santos parked outside to defend another willing shooter in Troy Rosario, Williams and the other Tropang Giga guards had their way inside the paint. The Tropang Giga controlled the early goings of the contest, and established a 10-point lead with a little above seven minutes left in the second quarter.  

That’s when the Beermen decided to go into the zone defense. 

By falling back into a zone, San Miguel essentially wanted to hide Fajardo’s limitations on defense and put a stop on TNT’s penetrations. They also delayed the Tropang Giga offense, forcing them to burn a lot of time on their shot clock. 

The next clip shows San Miguel’s first defensive possession using the zone, which resulted in an RR Pogoy turnover.

After using the zone midway through the second period, the Beermen chipped away at the deficit, and the Tropang Giga saw their double-digit lead cut down to only two with under two minutes remaining in the quarter. After the halftime break, San Miguel then went back to their man-to-man defense, which TNT again took advantage of. TNT went on a scoring run that spanned the first seven minutes of the third quarter, and found themselves leading by 18 points.

So what did San Miguel do? Yes, you guessed that right — they went back to their zone defense. Starting from the fifth-minute mark of the third quarter, the Beermen utilized the zone the rest of the way. The fourth quarter was an absolute disaster for TNT. Along with the fact that they were outscored by San Miguel, 31-14, their outside shooting also spiralled downward. After hitting a decent 33% of their three-point shots in the first three quarters, TNT only came up with a lowly 2-of-12 shooting from deep in the payoff period. TNT’s inability to hit their three-pointers was basically the reason why San Miguel was fully content on keeping their zone defense.

By the sixth-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Tropang Giga saw their 18-point lead cut down to only six. Behind the exploits of Terrence Romeo, San Miguel continued to push forward and a Marcio Lassiter game-winning putback completed their impressive Game 2 comeback win.

TNT obviously had their troubles against the zone defense, but it’s not like they didn’t figure it out. The ball moved really well and they almost always found their shooters open at the corner, as you can see in this possession when they hit a wide-open Rosario at the right corner.

However, the only problem was that they didn’t hit their shots. That’s it, really. They only had 11 turnovers the whole game, which meant that the Tropang Giga took care of the ball really well. So it’s just a matter of capitalizing on their wide-open opportunities, which they failed to do. Mikey Williams, Brian Heruela, and Jayson Castro combined for a horrendous 2-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc, and that’s a trend that they cannot replicate if they want San Miguel to pay for using the zone.

The zone defense isn’t supposed to be used for an extended period of time. More often than not, teams only fall back to the zone to disrupt the opposing team’s rhythm on offense. It usually doesn’t take a lot of time for teams to figure out what to do against a zone, and the Beermen were definitely aware of that. But if the TNT shooters continue to fire blanks, expect San Miguel to get cozy with their zone defense.

Advanced Stats are now available for Philippine basketball! Through Ryan Alba’s ‘Stats by Ryan’, you can now look at team and player advanced stats for the current 2021 PBA Philippine Cup (and the previous three seasons) via the Dribble Media website.

Check out this glossary for a list of the basketball advanced stats terminologies.

You can also contact Ryan via his Twitter handle (@_alba__).

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  1. Pingback: A Red-Hot Paul Lee, TNT’s Shooting Woes, and What to Watch on PBA Friday — Dribble Media

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