The San Miguel Beermen and TNT Tropang Giga came home to widespread criticism after both teams went winless -- in double-digit losses, no less -- against clubs from Japan and Korea in the East Asia Super League Champions Week tournament.
The general sentiment is that the PBA is now behind its counterparts in other Asian professional leagues. If the best team in the PBA could get blown out by 55 points, then the gap must be wider than the distance between Okinawa and Manila.
Not necessarily, according to a veteran coach. In the view of College of St. Benilde head coach Charles Tiu, the PBA teams could have been more competitive even with the circumstances stacked against them.
"With TNT, I think one factor was their imports aren't that big and they're not a team that has a big man, either," Tiu told ESPN. "So it's that's really gonna be a challenge for them. Obviously also they didn't come into this tournament the healthiest. They had a tough first game against [B.League champions Utsunomiya] Brex. They just shot the lights out. They're a good team, they played very well that game and TNT just didn't have enough gas. In their next game (against Seoul SK Knights) they had a much better fight. They just fell a bit short."
The Tropang Giga, who were forced to use former import Jalen Hudson alongside Daneil Ochefu, were blown out by Utsonomiya by 33 in the first game. They were more competitive against Korean league champions Seoul SK Knights, losing 80-69 in what was a close game for three quarters.
The Beermen dealt with injuries and a poor showing from their second import Jessie Govan and lost by an average of 41.5 points to Japan and Korea league runners-up Ryukyu Golden Kings and Tiu, who has coached on the national and youth team levels and against international clubs, thinks that while injuries played a factor, it should not have mattered this much:
"With San Miguel, June Mar (Fajardo) gets hurt in the first minutes of their first game. Guys aren't exactly healthy there. But to me I don't think they should have lost by 55 points no matter what. It seemed like they probably didn't care. I don't know if they were trying to send a message that they didn't care at all but it's hard to fathom allowing that many points in a 40-minute game and you're a professional team, especially a team the caliber of San Miguel.
Anyang KGC, the eventual Champions Week winners who have Filipino Rhenz Abando in their lineup, clobbered the Beermen by the mind-boggling score of 142-87.
"How can you allow 140 points in a 40-minute game?" Tiu said. "I'd understand a 48-minute game, maybe against NBA teams. But against a team at that level, even if you say you have nothing to play for, I think normally you'd show a little bit more pride to fight. Maybe 20 points, 30 points I'd understand. But this? It's a bit of a surprise."
That being said, Tiu doesn't think the talent disparity between Filipino club teams and their Korean and Japanese counterparts is that much.
"To be honest, I don't think they're far apart. If you ask me, I think our locals could compete pretty much with their locals. I think the top teams of both leagues are a little bit more talented. Japan has so many teams. So the bottom teams there aren't really competitive either. Korea, they're a bit of a smaller league, kind of the same size as the PBA and the talent is a little more concentrated. But talent-wise, local for local I don't think we're far behind."
One other factor to consider, Tiu points out, is the set of rules.
"Obviously the 40-minute game versus the 48-minute game is a bit different. When you play FIBA rules, the margin for error is so much smaller. One big run can blow you away and that's it. That extra eight minutes is a huge difference in basketball."
Tiu used the Bay Area Dragons, runners-up in the recent Commissioner's Cup, as an example of a talented team that fell short.
"They ended up in third place. But really, they should have defeated the SK Knights. They were up by 17 in the second half. All it took was one bad quarter. They ended up losing the game and losing a chance to play for the championship. But that's how FIBA works sometimes. Then in the PBA we're used also to having series in the playoffs where you have one bad game, you can turn it around. It's a long five-game, seven game series. The better team usually really wins. But sometimes in FIBA, you get hot one game and you blow the game wide open."
A lot has also been said about the Korean and Japanese teams' imports, who are taller and have been with their teams longer. But Tiu thinks this wasn't much of a factor.
"Talent-wise for the imports, I don't think their imports are that much better than ours. In the PBA we get really good imports also. It's just that the style of play is a little bit more balanced. You don't see as much imports there scoring 30, 40 points a game. But of course it's still a factor that they have two imports. But the talent gap isn't far for sure. We should be at the same level, that's why I'm a little bit surprised with how it turned out."
Under different circumstances -- with longer preparation, less travel and more ideal playing conditions -- Tiu believes PBA teams would have been able to be much more competitive.
"Preparation is key in basketball. All things being equal I think we have more than average chance of competing against these teams. I'd say we have a fair game to beat them on any given day. But it shouldn't be like these 20-point 30-point blowouts. Guys just have to care and to play hard."