MANILA, Philippines – The Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings will have to find a way to limit TNT's behemoth of an import, Joshua Smith, if they hope to tie up their PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinals series against the KaTropa next Tuesday.
This, according to Ginebra reinforcement Justin Brownlee after Smith went off for 35 points on 16-of-22 shooting in TNT's 100-94 win in Game 1.
Smith, who stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs 330 pounds, scored over and through all the defenders that Ginebra threw at him, while also dissecting their double- and triple-teams with kick out passes. He showcased stunning mobility for his size; in one instance, he caught the ball at the free throw line, took one dribble, then spun into the lane for the two-handed flush.
"He's a dominant force inside the paint," said Brownlee, who had 24 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists of his own but rarely guarded the much bigger Smith.
Instead, it was the Ginebra locals – Japeth Aguilar, Joe Devance, and Dave Marcelo – who drew the unenviable assignment of trying to hold off the hulking import, often with little effect.
"We have to maybe do something different," said Brownlee. "I don't know, but we go to practice tomorrow, and Coach Tim (Cone) will have something for us. We're going to look forward to that."
Asked what they need to improve for Game 2, Brownlee simply said: "No. 1, we gotta get a hold of Smith better."
"When he's in there, he's pretty much unstoppable," admitted the celebrated Ginebra import. "That's No. 1."
Aguilar noted that aside from scoring, Smith also hurt Ginebra on the boards. The TNT big man grabbed 11 of his 13 rebounds on the offensive end, helping the KaTropa earn a 25-17 advantage in second chance points.
"Not only is he heavy, but he's wide talaga," said Aguilar. "So 'yun talaga ang advantage nila sa rebound. Kahit na madikit ka na sa kanya, dahil wide 'yung body niya, hindi mo ma-challenge na maabot 'yung bola."
"Mabigat talaga," he added. "'Yung chance mo lang talaga is full deny talaga."
[Not only is he heavy, but he's also wide. So he has an advantage when it comes to rebounding. Even if you put a body on him, you can't reach the ball because he's wide-bodied. He's also very heavy, so your best chance is to deny him the ball.]
Denying Smith the ball is much easier said than done, however, as the TNT guards kept finding gaps in Ginebra's defense to make entry passes. Moreover, even when he caught the ball far out from the hoop, Smith proved adept at backing down his defender then lofting a hook shot into the net.
In one third quarter sequence, Smith even brought the ball down the court by himself, then found RR Garcia wide open in the corner for a three-pointer. Garcia misfired on the triple, but Smith casually grabbed the offensive board then laid the ball in for a 70-61 TNT lead with 1:15 left in the period.
"He's big and tall and wide, and he had a good game today," said Devance. "I thought we played a good first half on him. I'm not sure how many he had, but it was a low number."
"But then, in the second half, I think he just found his rhythm," Devance added of Smith, who scored 29 of his 35 points in the second half. "He figured out how we have been guarding him."
"We have to find some type of way to keep (Smith) off the offensive rebounds," Brownlee also said.
The Gin Kings will have only one day to try and formulate a game plan to try and limit Smith. They acknowledge that it is a tall task, but the perennial crowd favorites remain upbeat.
"With the whole TNT, there is really no room for mistakes, let alone with the 6-10, 400-pound import, but we'll figure it out," Devance said. "We will see what we can do, and get better at it."