MANILA, Philippines - Sometimes, all a young, talented team needs to perform well is good old bonding time.
For Globalport Batang Pier, a squad teeming with rookies, having lunch out after a tough practice session made all the difference in helping them play as a unit and run the kind of game they wanted.
"I wanted to take the guys out, just us, the players," veteran guard Sol Mercado shared. "It's different because you can say certain things that you don't want to say around the coaches. I told everybody 'don't do anything after practice we're going to eat.'"
The simple act of eating out together did wonders for the team, planting a seed of mutual trust and respect among each other that's sure to blossom over time.
"We went out, ate, got a little private room and we talked," Mercado explained.
"We talked about what everybody's problem was, we addressed that we have to be selfless. That we have so much talent so we gotta share the ball. And that's the only way we're gonna win. It was good because you can see it translate right away. It felt so good to see it on the court. We weren't just talking, we showed it in our actions."
Looking at members of the Globalport team on Friday night, December 6 as they huddled on the bench did not necessarily reveal any changes to them. But once they stepped on the court and began slugging it out against the Meralco Bolts in a defense-oriented game, the changes suddenly became more evident.
"We just shared the ball. In our first 4 games, people were trying to feel each other out," Mercado added. "We're 8 new players, 6 rookies, so everybody's trying to get a feel for the game, trying to make their name."
The SMART Araneta Coliseum bore witness to how the Batang Pier moved the ball around and were unselfish enough to give the leather to the open man or to those with hot hands. As a result, Globalport came away with the win, 93-89.
"We're not used to each other," slotman Jay Washington admitted. "You can't just be on the floor and know each other. You have to do it off the floor too, especially when you have so many new guys."
Veterans take charge
After 4 games where Globalport's rookies were the center of attention, this time, it was the veterans who took charge.
"We were just more disciplined on the floor," said Washington, who went 2-of-3 from the arc and 5-of-10 from the field. "We're more free flowing and everybody's involved."
Photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images
Mercado was quick to deflect the credit from himself and Washington, saying anybody could lead the team.
"I was in a good rhythm. With this team I feel like anybody who's feeling it could take charge."
Mercado, who came off the bench, was all business during the entire match as he knocked down two treys, logged a 61.5% field goal shooting clip, grabbed 9 boards and dished out 5 dimes.
Mercado's production, it seemed, was a result of swinging between two positions.
According to Globalport head coach Ritchie Ticzon, he chose to use Mercado as both a point guard and an off guard to maximize him. Obviously, the ploy worked.
"He's becoming more and more comfortable with the system," Ticzon said. "The good thing about him is he's always positive."
Having veterans Mercado and Washington take over for Globalport was also a welcome development considering that Terrence Romeo had his worst game in the PBA so far with only 4 points.
"Na-shock din ako (I was shocked)," Romeo admitted. "Hindi ako nakapaghanda na ganito kaaga magiging ganoon na kaagad yung depensa sa akin." (I wasn't able to prepare. I didn't think the defense would be like this to me this early."
Though he admits feeling happy about the fact that opponents respect him enough to tighten their defense on him.
"Sa young age ko na 'to tapos ganoon na kaagad yung threat ko, sobrang saya ko. Mas mabilis akong magi-improve." (In my young age they already think of me as a threat, I'm happy. I'll improve faster.)
He bared that family problems also affected his game. Despite that, he looks forward to coming out stronger and better on Sunday.
"Hindi naman natatapos yung basketball sa isang bad game eh. Madami pa akong games, walang dapat ika-down." (Basketball is not over with one bad game. There's still plenty of games, nothing to feel down about.)
Apart from off-court activities, Globaport's performance was also due to team owner Mikee Romero reprimanding the team for not putting effort on defense.
"We're the worst defensive team in the league. We give up the most points and boss Mikee [Romero] wanted us to become a better defensive team," Mercado said.
The goal for Globalport's defense, according to Mercado, is to limit the number of possessions given to the opponent and increase the efficiency of their own possessions by choosing better shots and milking the clock to their favor.
"A part of our problem was we like to get out and run so much, so there's more possessions and we give up a lot of points," he explained. "[In this game] we made a conscious effort that if we didn't have anything on the break, we'd give it to our secondary offense. And it worked."
In this game, they limited Meralco to under 90 points and 43.4% field goal shooting. They also attempted more fastbreaks than Meralco, 13-8, and made sure to convert 16 points from it.
While they did give up 9 triples to the Bolts, they made up for it by forcing Meralco to turn the ball over 15 times, scoring 20 points off of it.
Rebounding was also a department Globalport won by a landslide with a total of 52 boards, 16 on the offensive end going their way, against only 37 and 6 on the offensive for Meralco.
Jondan Salvador crashed the boards for Globalport with 14, while displacing Rabeh Al-Hussaini underneath.
"He (Al-Hussaini) was out-muscled inside," Meralco head coach Ryan Gregorio said. "Jondan Salvador did a good job displacing him in the paint."
Al-Hussaini, who has been training with Gilas Pilipinas naturalized center Marcus Douthit, clocked in only 7 points and 5 boards.
Too fast for Meralco
After playing tremendously well against Barangay Ginebra, Gregorio admitted that it may have sucked a lot of energy from the team.
He said the main difference between Meralco's performance against Ginebra and against Globalport was how the latter easily matched, if not surpassed, Meralco's speed.
"The glaring thing is they were just fast. They were faster than us," Gregorio said. "With Ginebra we were definitely faster than them, but with this team [Globalport], they can keep in step with us."
He also cited injuries to key players Cliff Hodge and Rey Hugnatan as significant factors that made it difficult for Meralco to operate at full potential.
"I had to shorten my rotation because I don't have anyone to pull from the bench," he admitted. "We just have to keep our boat afloat and find ways to be competitive."
According to Gregorio, the initial timeline for Hodge's return is about 6 to 8 weeks. Hugnatan, on the other hand, is expected to be back in 3 to 4 weeks.
Meanwhile, Globalport's team chemistry will be tested again on Sunday, December 8 against Rain or Shine.
Regardless if they can squeeze in another team-only bonding session before then, Mercado is set on having another one by next week. This time, it will be the rookies who will treat the team.
"We already talked about it," he said as he joked about having the rookies treat them at a nice place. "Next week, we'll have the rookies take us out and eat or something expensive to have them treat us." - Rappler.com