Big Shot George struck again.
Ateneo’s very own version of Robert Horry continued to silence those who doubted him after his blunder in the second round loss to La Salle
His dagger three-pointer in Game 3 of the UAAP Finals put the Blue Eagles up by five points with 24 seconds remaining in the game. It was one of those shots which would go down in Ateneo lore, alongside Gec Chia’s miracle basket versus UE in the 2002 Final Four, and Ryan Buenafe’s isolation, jab-step, jersey-popping three versus FEU in the 2010 Finals clincher.
Many immediately took to social media to praise Isaac for making such a shot. Isaac was nicknamed “Isaac GOAT” for his heroics in the Finals. But reality of it, however, is there was more to that shot than just Isaac breaking the hearts of the 11,000 fans who were in green in the Araneta Coliseum that Sunday evening.
Here’s the breakdown:
The play initially started with Matt Nieto receiving the ball from near the half-court line with Aljun Melecio on him. With lots of time to spare, Matt took his precious time and started dribbling when there was only 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
When it came to his other teammates, it was a basic spread out set for the rest of them. Four players spread out across the perimeter (Anton Asistio and Thirdy Ravena on opposite corners while the Nieto twins were on the wings) while Isaac was the anchor down low. Everyone on the floor was a possible threat, as each player was more than capable of taking the shot outside. The result is some decent spacing for the Blue Eagles.
Take note how Mike is immediately ready to shoot while as twin brother Matt starts to make his way towards the rim. This is low-key a smart move. Between the five players on the floor, it’s Mike who is the first pass away and in the best position for a pass. By putting himself in position to catch the ball and make the play, the La Salle defense is then forced to decide: Do we double Matt, or do we stay on Mike because he’s ready to attack?
The La Salle defense opted to stay home on their assignments at this point, as Ricci Rivero sticks to Mike who made his move. Matt pulls back, turns, then passes it off to Thirdy Ravena who starts to make his way to the right wing. The pass looked like it was intended for Isaac but it’s a bullet directed to Thirdy.
Almost immediately, as Thirdy receives the ball, Isaac approaches his teammate to set-up the pick and roll between the two of them. The defense of La Salle immediately reacts as they make the switch. The assignments are now as follows: Kib is up against the bigger player in Isaac, while Ben Mbala is switched to fellow Mythical Team member, Thirdy.
The match-up after the switch makes this next movement of the La Salle defense even more curious.
Ben stays on Thirdy. The MVP has been a capable defender on the perimeter. He limited Thirdy in their second round game and was able to stick to guys like Paul Desiderio, Alvin Pasaol and Jerrick Ahanmisi out in the open floor.
Two players of note are looking at Thirdy as he makes his move to the rim: Andrei Caracut and Kib. For the case of Andrei, it makes sense to be looking at Thirdy as he makes his way to the rim. He’s in position as the primary help defender in case Thirdy manages to blow by Ben. So his attention with what’s happening on the ball isn’t surprising.
But in the case of Kib, his focus on Thirdy is primarily to see what was happening during the play. That isn’t the worst thing to do since if Thirdy is looking to pass, he can anticipate it. What would be bad is if Kib over plays Thirdy and offers additional help, leaving his man open.
That’s exactly what Kib did. As Thirdy inched closer, Kib lets go of Isaac and started to make his way to help on Thirdy.
This doesn’t make sense for two reasons: One, he isn’t the primary helper in this situation. In fact, the secondary helper, Ricci, makes more sense in stopping Thirdy from getting all the way to the rim. He’s not in the best position to help plus Andrei and Ben have Thirdy already contained on their side.
Second, he should have just stuck to Isaac, since there are only two things Isaac could do in such a situation: pop out to the three-point line or roll to the rim. The more obvious option was a pop out to the three-point area as Mike already occupied the space near the rim for the dump off pass.
On that note, we’ll give credit to Andrei Caracut for making the wise choice of not doubling on Thirdy and instead sticking to Anton Asistio. If he doubled on Thirdy, that would have been an instant drive and kick to Anton in the left wing, one of Anton’s better shots. That decision killed that option for the Blue Eagles.
Thirdy stopped, turned, and looked at Isaac. With Kib no longer in sight, Isaac immediately made his move to rainbow country as Thirdy turned to his direction. Kib turned when Thirdy stopped his drive All he could do was fly, and hope Isaac missed the good look.
His contest wasn’t fast enough as Isaac hit a shot that would go down in Ateneo lore.
Some additional notes:
- It was an amazing play designed by Coach Tab Baldwin, giving the creators of the Blue Eagles (Matt and Thirdy) multiple options. The Blue Eagles deserve praise not only for executing but for staying composed throughout their play. They definitely had options with their initial mode of attack, but what is most impressive is how they chose wisely, and in the end they got an open Isaac in the right place at the right time.
- Yes, Kib made a mistake. But he played amazing defense all throughout the series. He’s still a college player that’s learning the finer nuances of the game. He will surely learn from this and become better next year.
- On to the hero: Isaac. The biggest comparison people have with this shot is the one he made versus FEU to tie things up in their do or die Final Four match. It isn’t a bad comparison, but the play set-up was way different. Versus FEU, it started with Isaac receiving the ball from the pinch-post, then he handed it off to Matt to create. They then executed a simple pick and pop, and the FEU defense actually managed to recover. Isaac pulled off a pump fake to throw off the initial defender and hit the three to tie things up. This was a little different, as it wasn’t an explicit pick and pop unlike the one versus FEU, plus they needed to execute quicker against FEU. Both great shots nonetheless.
- Isolation hero ball shots are cool, but these are just as fun.
All screenshots from ABS-CBN Sports and Action