In a match-up between 2 probable finalists, Punjab took on the mighty ONGC in their last Pool-A encounter. Both teams had won their two previous games and were raring to test themselves against a tougher opposition. The match, played on a cool breezy Mumbai evening, promised to be competitive. Punjab, with their highly effective zone defence and electrifying transition game versus the experienced ONGC team, containing a balanced attack of perimeter and post players. Who would come out on top?
The final score line of 72-58 in favour of ONGC doesn’t tell the full story. It doesn’t speak of how Punjab made ONGC work hard for every basket, and of Punjab’s own creative brilliance on the offensive end, mainly through their only international Amritpal Singh, who had 21 points and 9 rebounds. ONGC got a committed effort from centre Murali Krishna (17 pts, 9 rbs), who played most of the game to cover for the resting Yadwinder Singh and injured Anoop. On a relatively quiet day by his standards, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi top scored again with 23 points. Now that ONGC have topped Pool-A, they will face Indian Air Force in the first semi-finals on 20th April. Punjab will meet IOB in the second semifinals on the same day.
No. 8 of Punjab, Ranbir Singh, a highly athletic guard who had shown flashes of brilliance in the previous 2 games, came out strong in the first quarter. He had a couple of layups, a three pointer and two breathtaking assists that took some of the initial scoring load off Amritpal Singh.
Finally we got to see the Riyazuddin of old! The long serving Indian guard, who has been on the national side on and off from 1999 to 2011, was largely missing in the previous league matches. In this game, however, you could sense his aggressive intent right from the start. He put his head down and repeatedly drove to the basket for quick twos. He also had a steal off the usually unflappable Amritpal Singh, and knocked down the occasional outside shot whenever needed. He ended the game with 9 points.
Beautiful baseline passing of ONGC: Mature recognition of the double team by Murali Krishna, who passed the ball to Mohit Bhandari who immediately handed it off to Shabeer for the deuce.
Get that out of here! Punjab’s Amritpal Singh, who in all the games leading up to that point had scored at least 30 fast break points without any real difficulty, got rejected by Shabeer late in the 2nd quarter.
The Bhandari hand flutter: To dissuade his man from shooting at the top of the key, Mohit Bhandari, ONGC’s wiry veteran point guard employed a highly effective flutter of the extended left hand in the face of the shooter. This distracted his opposition player Amanjot Singh who made only 1 out of his 7 shots. Those kids reading this report and aspiring to improve their game should add the Bhandari hand flutter to their playground moves right away.
HE SAID SHE SAID – I
“In order to break a zone defence, you need to have experience + outside shooting + the ability to drive in and kick the ball out for the open three.” – Riyazuddin, ONGC’s two guard on how they managed to break Punjab’s legendary zone defense
HE SAID SHE SAID – II
“Our main players were given rest, so I had to step up. The main reason we win is because each and every player on our team is experienced. We play our game no matter what the opposition is doing.” – Shabeer Ahmed, the former India forward had a highly efficient game for his team, cleaning up the offensive boards in the absence of the injured Anoop and Yadwinder Singh, who was rested.
The ONGC perimeter players: Punjab’s zone defence was premised on the other teams’ weakness in outside shooting, and their own advantage historically in terms of height. Playing three perimeter players was a good idea against a Punjab zone. Vishesh B (48%), Mohit Bhandary (44%) and Riyazuddin (50%) were all in reasonable touch with their shooting. The Punjab zone was forced to spread out and cover a lot of ground on each possession.
ONGC completely cut down Punjab’s fast break opportunities: With Yadwinder on the bench throughout the game, ONGC started with Shabbir and Murali Krishna as power forward and centre respectively. This size advantage negated the number of fast break opportunities for Amritpal Singh & Co, who simply couldn’t secure the ball soon enough to push ahead for the fast break. Punjab had a meagre 18 points in the paint against 42 for ONGC, only 2 of which came from outright fast break opportunities.
Punjab’s power forward/centre Harvinder Preet, who usually is a reliable shot from the baseline corners, was only 2 of 8 in this game. Had he made a few more of his shots, the ONGC bigs would have been forced to come out and guard him. With his misses, Shabeer and Murali Krishna stayed in the paint to secure the defensive rebounds and double team the driving Amritpal Singh.