What are the keys to winning Game 3 of the 2013 PBA Govs’ Cup Finals?

This article also appears on PBA.Inquirer.net.

The joust for 2013 PBA Governors’ Cup has become a bona fide best-of-five affair after the series protagonists – Petron Blaze and San Mig Coffee – each won a game to draw level. For this writer, the fact that the Finals count has become 1-1 is surprising, since Petron has been running roughshod over the competition prior to losing Game 2. The Boosters, in fact, won 13 of the 15 games before losing to the Mixers this past Sunday. To say that Petron was on the wrong end of an upset is a bit of an understatement, especially considering how San Mig Coffee was also one main guy short (Allein Maliksi has been reduced to a glorified cheerleader because he tore his ACL again).

Alex Mallari and Ronald Tubid hope to lead
their respective teams to a big Game 3 win.
(image by Pranz Kaeno Billones/PBA)

But, alas, here we are. Now, instead of having a two-game cushion heading into the crossroad that is Game 3, the Boosters of coach Gee Abanilla are faced with an uphill battle. The Mixers really rattled them in Game 2, with Marqus Blakely proving why he deserved to be called the Best Import of the Conference and James Yap reemerging into his Big Game self. By playing physical, the Mixers also drew a lot of fouls from Petron’s vaunted frontliners. Elijah Millsap, Arwind Santos, and June Mar Fajardo all fouled out in that contest, paving the way for San Mig’s huge equalizer.

That’s the first key point, of course. For the Mixers to continue their winning ways in these Finals, they will need to continue playing physical against Petron’s bigs. I mean, Millsap is an all-around beast (he was my pick for Best Import, not that anybody was asking, though), Fajardo is a dark horse Rookie-of-the-Year candidate, and Santos was adjudged the Best Player of the Conference. In terms of depth in the paint, San Mig, despite having the aforementioned Blakely and tough guys like Joe Devance and Marc Pingris, is the clear underdog here. Oh, and YES I chose not to include Rafi Reavis and Yancy De Ocampo among those “tough guys.” #ShotsFired

Conversely, Santos & Co. have to do a better job of adjusting to the physicality the Mixers will surely throw their way. Coach Gee Abanilla has a plethora of talented guards and wingmen who can weave their way to the basket or torch the strings from deep, but they will be significantly neutered if the frontcourt is riding the pine because of foul trouble. Look at the following table for comparison:

Combined Fouls of Millsap, Santos, and Fajardo
Eight fouls – 5 for Millsap and 3 for Fajardo
Eighteen fouls – all three foul out
Team FG%
Opponent’s FG%
Petron wins
Petron loses

There is no cause-and-effect relationship, of course, and, for all intents and purposes, the table is terribly simplistic, but it just serves to illustrate (in the most basic way possible) the importance of Petron’s frontline vis-à-vis their chances of winning.

There are a few other glaring trends so far, too. First, San Mig Coffee has been the more aggressive team when it comes to attacking the basket. Second, the Mixers have won the rebounding battle in BOTH games. Third, Petron needs to force turnovers (a lot more turnovers) to beat such an aggro basketball team.

What are the indications that the Mixers have been more aggressive in attacking the hole? Two things – the proportion of three-point shots to two-point shots and the number of free throws attempted. Yes, yes, these are all general indicators and a more specific shot chart would be helpful, but, given certain constraints, these parameters are reasonable variables. Just agree, okay?

Here’s the thing – so far, San Mig has attempted a total of 32 three-pointers (making 9), while Petron has attempted a total of 43 (making 18). So far, San Mig has attempted (been awarded) a total of EIGHTY-ONE free throws (in just TWO games; they made 45), while Petron has attempted 43 (making 29). It’s clear that coach Abanilla’s wingmen are looking to score more from long range than by attacking the basket or dumping the ball down low, while, on the other end of the floor, coach Tim Cone’s wards have been more conscious of finding creases in the Boosters’ collective defense. Assuming both teams will continue to play this way, Petron’s perimeter game must be spot-on for the Boosters to go up 2-1, while San Mig must continue being aggressive in keeping coach Abanilla’s D on the back-foot (achievement unlocked: football reference!).

A more curious element, however, is the fact that San Mig has actually won the rebounding battle in both games, and by a mile at that! In Game 1, the Mixers dominated the glass, 52-41, and they repeated the feat in Game 2, 51-39. This is strange because Petron has two locals in the conference’s top ten rebounders (Fajardo and Santos), while San Mig has… none (yes, not even Pingris). The reason, then? Marqus Blakely. The SMC import is norming better than 16 caroms per outing, easily outhustling and outleaping anybody in a Petron jersey. If the Boosters can find a way to cut the rebounding deficit significantly (if not entirely), then their chances of winning Game 3 will go up by a considerable degree.

Lastly, one thing the Mixers did NOT do so well in their Game 1 loss was taking care of the basketball. In that defeat, coach Cone’s boys coughed up the basketball 18 times, while forcing Petron to commit 5 fewer TOs. These SMC errors enabled Petron to score 17 fastbreak points and 21 points-off-turnovers. The chief culprits in that Game 1 disaster? Blakely, Yap, Pingris, and Alex Mallari each registered at least 3 turnovers -- just not good enough in the Finals. In contrast, the numbers in Game 2 were a lot more acceptable, as the Mixers turned the tables on the Boosters. Petron committed 21 turnovers, while San Mig had just 15. What does this mean for San Mig Coffee and its fans? Well, hopefully, that the Mixers have learned their lesson.

Enzo Flojo is new here on the PBA site, but he has been writing about all things basketball for quite some time now. You can read more of his stuff on his nationally-recognized blog, HoopNut.com, on the college hoops site, Inboundpass.com, or you can follow him on Twitter -- @HoopNut.

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