Super Slingers draw first blood
Singaporean side turn on the heat with comprehensive 92-76 away win in Asean Basketball League Finals Game 1
|HONG KONG EASTERN LONG LIONS||SINGAPORE SLINGERS|
Records fell as the Singapore Slingers delivered a devastating display at both ends of the court to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals series against the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang hailed the 92-76 victory at the Southorn Stadium as his team's "best game this season", while Eastern coach Eduard Torres conceded the visitors "were better and tougher in every area".
Simply put, the Singaporean side did everything Neo asked of them - play good defence, restrict the opponents' three-point shots, win more rebounds and commit less turnovers - and then some.
Just how good were the Slingers?
For starters, the 16-point loss is the worst defeat suffered by regular-season winners Eastern in their debut season.
Red-hot shooters Justin Howard and Joshua Urbiztondo also set new ABL Finals scoring marks by notching 45 points and seven three-pointers respectively. Howard also claimed a massive 28 rebounds for another Finals record.
It was yet another consistent quarter-to-quarter display by the Slingers, who look focused to avenge their Finals heartbreak - they lost 3-2 to the Westports Malaysia Dragons last season - and win their first ABL championship.
Howard's 10 points and Urbiztondo's two three-pointers helped Slingers take a 24-21 lead in the opening period, as they successfully restricted the highly vaunted Eastern duo Marcus Elliott and former NBA centre Joshua Boone to just one point.
With Elliott and Boone struggling for points - just a total of eight in two quarters - the first half was effectively a scoring contest between Howard and Eastern forward Tyler Lamb, which the Slingers centre won 26-18 as his side's advantage extended to 46-41 despite the hosts threatening a fightback by leading 41-40.
While Elliott improved with a 13-point effort in the third quarter, he also racked up four personal fouls to be one away from ejection as Urbiztondo lit up from range, draining three straight triples to widen the gap to 68-58.
With swingman Xavier Alexander also contributing 14 points and nine rebounds, there was to be no late drama as the Slingers stayed disciplined to complete a morale-boosting win ahead of Tuesday's Game 2 at the same venue.
Howard said: "We played good defence to hold the league's No. 1 scoring team (Eastern posted 91.4 points per game before the Finals) to 76 points, which enabled us to get a good win and I'm very happy about that.
"With hard work, my team put me in a good position to get the baskets. They believed in me and I was able to knock them down."
Neo added: "Eastern have good three-point shooting and converted 60 per cent in the first half, so I'm happy we managed to cut them down to 30 per cent in the second half.
"We were also balanced as we made shots inside and outside. We definitely did not expect a big win like this but we showed good effort and energy to play our best game this season so far.
"We now have to get good rest so that we can be ready for Game 2."
A despondent Torres was gracious in defeat and urged his team to show more desire in the next match if they don't want to find themselves 2-0 down before Game 3 in Singapore on Friday.
The Spaniard said: "Congratulations to the Slingers because they were much better than us from the first minute.
"I accept responsibility for the defeat. The coach has to improve first, and then the players.
"We have lived off our good moments in the past. Now we have to learn that there can be bad moments like this, and we have to be tougher and more aggressive to win our next match."