Even the Magnolia Hotshots were impressed at the offensive wizardry displayed by TNT rookie Mikey Williams in Game 3 of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup Finals on Sunday.
In a record-setting performance, Williams exploded for 39 points on 14-of-25 shooting from the field, making 10 of his 18 attempts from beyond the arc.
It was the highest-scoring game by a rookie since Eric Menk scored 42 points in Game 3 of the 1999 All-Filipino finals for Tanduay. Williams' 10 3-pointers were also a finals record, and tied for third-most in a game in PBA history.
"Sobrang talented talaga ni Mikey, ano. Credit din talaga sa kanya," said Magnolia guard Paul Lee, a prolific scorer himself, after the game.
So impressive was Williams that Magnolia coach Chito Victolero could only crack a joke after the game.
"We changed up our defense…. We just tried to limit Mikey Williams. But tingin ko, na-limit namin eh, 40 points lang ata iniskor niya," Victolero said in jest.
Fortunately for the Hotshots, they were successful in limiting the other Tropang GIGA players. Williams was efficient but his teammates struggled from the field, with Roger Pogoy making four of 11 shots for 14 points, and Poy Erram going 5-of-11 for 10 points. No other TNT player reached double digits.
Still, the Hotshots needed a big fourth-quarter run and a stout defensive stand in the closing stretch to hack out a 106-98 triumph that trimmed the series deficit to 2-1.
Williams' performance was a challenge to all of them, said Lee.
"Na-challenge 'yung buong team talaga sa kanya, kahit 'yung mga coaching staff namin. Every time na makaka-shoot siya ng three-points or ng big shot, sila Coach Chito, 'yung mga coaching staff, nag-iisip ng plano kung paano namin mali-limit si Mikey," said Lee, who had 21 points in his best performance so far in the finals series.
"Pero 'yun nga, parang nabuhay siya para umiskor talaga eh. So ganoon talaga kagaling si Mikey," he added.
The Hotshots gave Williams a variety of looks in Game 3, ranging from Jio Jalalon to Rome dela Rosa to Calvin Abueva, and even to veteran Rafi Reavis who tried to bother the rookie with his wingspan and height. The Magnolia coaching staff could only shake their head as Williams found ways to get past every defender.
For Victolero, it was not exactly surprising. Williams has been superb in his rookie season, averaging 18.1 points and shooting 40.5% from the field for TNT. He is also making nearly 40% of his 3-pointers on over eight attempts per game. In the elimination round, he torched NLEX for 36 points and had scored 21 points in Game 1, and 28 in Game 2 of the finals.
"(Williams is) very good. He's an NBA-caliber (player). I think he played in the D-League (now the G League)," said Victolero of the 29-year-old Williams, who was picked fourth overall by TNT in the PBA Rookie Draft.
"So 'yung bata naman talaga, makita naman natin, talagang kahit anong ilagay namin eh, he scores. He loves to score. Any scheme, talagang nagagawan niya ng paraan," he added.
"Hindi mo na mai-stop 'yun eh. I think maano lang namin, ma-limit lang namin, siguro under 50 points," the coach joked. "But we tried. We tried our best."
More adjustments need to be done by the Hotshots in Game 4, admits Victolero, as Williams is now averaging 29 points per game in the finals while shooting 53% from the field. He has also made an incredible 20 of his 33 three-pointers in the series; Magnolia, as a team, has made 15 triples in three games.
"Wala pa naman kaming napag-iisipan or tinitingnang adjustment for Game 4, but we're just trying to be ready. We'll review the film tomorrow, and we try na makita kung anong adjustment," said Victolero.
"But 'yung scheme naman na gagawin namin sa depensa, depende pa rin sa mga players kung paano namin ie-execute eh. So tingnan natin on Game 4," he added.