Basketball

Breaking down Casio’s miracle shot

PBA/Nuki Sabio

Talk ‘N Text outlasted Powerade, 133-126, in overtime to go up 3-0 in the Philippine Cup finals, but the biggest shot of the night belonged to the Tigers’ top pick JVee Casio.

Down by three points with 3.3 seconds to go in the game and without possession of the ball, Powerade forced a Talk ‘N Text turnover on the sideline inbound pass. Casio tracked down the ball and drilled a three-pointer to tie the game and force an overtime.

Powerade lost in the extra period but Casio’s shot was one to remember.

Here’s how the whole sequence came about:

The Tropang Texters called a timeout to prepare for the inbound pass. All they needed to seal the game in regulation was to get the ball inbounds, wait for a Powerade foul, and convert one of two free throws. For that final play, they settled on a lineup of Jimmy Alapag, Jason Castro, Larry Fonacier, Ranidel De Ocampo and Japeth Aguilar.

Those were five of the six best free throw shooters for Talk ‘N Text this conference. De Ocampo and Alapag are both shooting better than 85% from the line. Fonacier is third on the team with a 77% clip and led the team in scoring in the game. Castro trails Ryan Reyes in free throw percentage, but he has so often looked like the best player on their team this year.

Aguilar was the interesting inclusion. He’s not a bad free throw shooter, sixth on the team in free throw percentage, at just a shade under Castro’s. But he was there primarily for being the safety option.

“He was there because we could just throw it high in his direction and he should be able to outjump [defender Rommel] Adducul,” said a Talk ‘N Text assistant.

De Ocampo, a tall player with good passing skills for a big man, was designated as the passer. If the Tropang Texters had gone with a smaller guy, Powerade could have put a bigger defender with length to bother the passer. With De Ocampo passing, no such option existed for the defense.

The inbound play was designed for Alapag to be the first option, being one of the most reliable shooters not just from the stripe but also with the game on the line. In fact, Alapag had just hit a three-pointer not one minute earlier to reclaim the lead for the Tropang Texters at 117-116.

In the play, Fonacier would flash toward the passer, with Alapag faking left then making a cut toward the ball himself, a little deeper than Fonacier. Castro would get out of the way by diving into the paint from the top of the key, while Aguilar would set up near the right block, ready for an emergency pass.

But Powerade defended the play excellently. Doug Kramer got as close to De Ocampo as the referees would allow, pressuring the passer from almost on top of the sideline himself. When Fonacier made his move toward the ball, De Ocampo became hesitant to make the pass, allowing Gary David to recover and front Fonacier.

Kramer took away the angle on the pass to Alapag, and instead of tossing the ball over to Aguilar in the post, De Ocampo lobbed it back over David and Fonacier’s heads, toward the halfcourt line.

Fonacier had an excellent seal on David, and might have been in position to get to the ball. But with the referees being liberal with contact in the final possession, Fonacier stumbled and fell after tangling with David and was taken out of the play.

Casio, who was trailing Alapag on his move toward the passer, quickly sprung into action, chasing down the loose ball. As Talk ‘N Text coaches noted after the game, the impressive thing about Casio’s play — “What makes him the No. 1 pick,” one assistant said — was the fact that as he ran after the ball, he took one quick look at the defenders trailing him, one look at the ball, and one look at the time remaining on the clock, before picking it up right behind the three-point line and drilling in the shot.

That kind of awareness is rare, even for a grizzled veteran, and even rarer in a rookie playing in his first conference. “You can’t teach that stuff,” said one Talk ‘N Text assistant. “He just knows how to win.”

Another thing that made the shot impressive, from a scouting perspective, was the fact that Casio was going to his right when he drained the crucial three-pointer. “Casio is usually more effective going to his left,” the Talk ‘N Text coaches said. “We’re more wary of him going left than going right.”

Alapag and even Aguilar tried to chase down Casio’s shot but neither made it there on time. Aguilar could have made it if Adducul hadn’t made a crafty play, as game tapes showed him delaying Aguilar by a split-second by hanging onto an arm as the Talk ‘N Text center chased Casio.

In short, the Powerade defenders, every single one of them, did everything right on the play. They were tough, rough, and showed just enough awareness and gulang to give Casio that clear look that sent the game to overtime.

Big time players make big time plays, and that shot may have been the biggest and most memorable of the conference. Casio is a special breed of player to be able to make that kind of shot under that kind of pressure. But it was also set up beautifully by his Powerade teammates.

“Nobody was down on Ranidel after making the error, everyone was encouraging him still,” said the Talk ‘N Text coaches. “Powerade just made an amazing play. Hats off to JVee and the rest of Powerade.”

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