Maybe we should’ve seen the signs that Andray Blatche was going to figure prominently in Strong Group Athletics’ game against Homenetmen Beirut.
But for all intents and purposes, Blatche was playing like crap for the most part against Homenetmen Beirut.
Blatche was misfiring and it wasn’t pretty. Age and heft were clearly affecting the Gilas Pilipinas big man as he was exerting a lot of effort by just going up and down the court. The sneaky quick first step was gone, but his tall figure at times gave him an edge. Yet even with that, his defenders could easily recover and put more pressure on him.
On the defensive end, Blatche was blowing defensive assignments against slower and less talented players he would have easily pushed around five years ago. Every time Strong Group Athletics would build a lead, Homenetmen Beirut would simply target Blatche on defense whether it was a defensive breakdown or a mismatch they would pounce on.
To make matters worse, Homenetmen Beirut had been jumping and yapping at the expense of Strong Group Athletics, who looked a little shell-shocked whenever Dwight Howard (team-high 32 points, seven rebounds, and a game-high five blocks) was on the bench while Kevin Quiambao and Andre Roberson were both kept in check during certain parts of the game.
Things thus looked shaky for Strong Group Athletics, but things suddenly clicked for Blatche in the fourth quarter.
Blatche’s 3-pointers came in bunches, all of which punished the Homenetmen Beirut’s defenders. The 49th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft drifted to the top of the 3-point line, patiently waiting for the likes of Quimabo, Jordan Heading, and Mckenzie Moore to drive and swing the ball towards him.
The 3-pointers also proved to be a backbreaker, as each one built up an avalanche that eventually allowed Strong Group Athletics to pull away from Homenetmen Beirut. Former Meralco Bolt import Zach Lofton rediscovered his scoring touch from the first quarter, but in the end, he met his match in Blatche.
Blatche’s performance in Strong Group Athletics’ 104-95 victory against Homenetmen Beirut was easily his best one so far in the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championship. After a scoreless debut, the former Washington Wizard and Brooklyn Net finished with 12 points against Al Wahda – Syria and continued his diesel-like pace on offense against Homenetmen Beirut.
Unfortunately, he leaves a lot to be desired defensively and Strong Group Athletics head coach Charles Tiu must decide whether or not he can play Blatche and Howard together for a longer period of time. Ideally, he’d prefer to let one take over for the other, as the rest of Strong Group Athletics’ bigs are suited for the perimeter and quick spurts in the paint. Blatche’s offense should make this an easier choice, but each game presents its own challenges and in this case, things worked in the favor of Strong Group Athletics.
It was great to see shades of the Gilas Pilipinas Andray Blatche in the Strong Group Athletics’ big win over Homenetmen Beirut, but it wasn’t without its tough moments. This was arguably one of Strong Group Athletics’ toughest tests and one has to hope that Blatche has rediscovered his touch in time for Strong Group Athletics to make a title run in the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championship.