A starter losing his spot in the first five usually leads to reduced confidence for that player. However, coming off the bench worked wonders for Meralco point guard Baser Amer as he bounced back from a poor performance in Game 1 to help the Bolts level the best-of-five series against Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to one win apiece.
Meralco head coach Norman Black, sensing that his ace point guard was struggling with the pressure of the semifinal matchup, relegated Amer to his bench for Game 2.
Amer had an atrocious performance to open their semifinal stint with two points on 1 of 10 shooting from the field in Game 1, a 96-79 win for Ginebra, although he chipped in three rebounds and two assists.
"I wasn't happy last game. He didn't play very well last game but tonight [Friday] he played better," Black said after his team picked up a 95-77 victory Friday night.
"We took a little pressure off of him by playing Nard Pinto as our starting point guard," Black explained. "It gave him the opportunity to see the game from the bench and come into the game against the second team of Ginebra. I'm very happy with the way he responded, the way he led the team, and hopefully he plays like this consistently."
Amer had an efficient performance in Game 2 with 10 points, a rebound, and a steal in 19 minutes. He also hit a big triple in the fourth quarter to set the tone for the Bolts' big run. Meralco was plus-31 when he was on the floor as their bench dominated the matchup against Barangay Ginebra's second unit, outscoring them 39 to 16.
"Playing off the bench helped alleviate the pressure for me," admitted Amer in Filipino. "Whatever coach Norman's decision is, we'll follow it because we have complete trust in him. Yesterday in practice, they told me I'll be playing off the bench which helped lessen the pressure for me."
Amer explained that the pressure he's referring to is on the defensive end.
"Defense has been my weakness. I've been trying to improve it but my teammates told me I played well earlier," the point guard said. "When we got back to the hotel, I just watched Game 1. I saw my struggles but I also learned a lot from it. Coach Norman challenged me to play better than Game 1. He just gave me confidence to play my game. He wasn't asking me to score a lot. He just wanted me to be play better defense and be vocal on the floor."
Playing off the bench could be an option moving forward for Amer and the Bolts and it proved to be a great solution to a situation that confronted them in Game 1. However, the long-term fix is still on Amer's shoulders and it's not whether he should start or not. Meralco needs Amer to take the leap for the entire team to move forward as well.
They hurdled Barangay Ginebra for one game and now he'll need to play with the same level of confidence consistently to try and beat them two more times. They take the first step on Sunday (6:30 p.m. live on TV5, One Sports an PBA Rush) when the Bolts and Gin Kings break their 1-1 deadlock.