Slingers book ABL finals spot
Filipino-American point guard shines as Slingers book ABL Finals spot
|ALAB PILIPINAS||SINGAPORE SLINGERS|
He wasn't one of the four players who finished the match with double-doubles.
With Xavier Alexander (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Justin Howard (18 points, 16 rebounds) in their usual dominant form, he wasn't even his team's top-scorer.
But Filipino-American point guard Joshua Urbiztondo will be one of the key players the Singapore Slingers will be relying on if they are to claim their maiden Asean Basketball League title.
The 34-year-old came into his own in a 82-64 victory over Alab Pilipinas at the Baliwag Star Arena in Bulacan last night to seal a 2-0 semi-final win as the Slingers marched into the ABL Play-off Finals for the second successive season.
The Singaporean side will most likely face Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions, who lead Saigon Heat 1-0 before tonight's Game 2 in the other semi-final, in the first match of the best-of-five Finals next weekend.
And they will need Urbiztondo to turn it on like he did against Alab.
The third foreign point guard the Slingers have tried out this season, Urbiztondo started off slow last night with just one three-pointer in the first half, but exploded into life in the last two quarters when his team needed him most.
The Slingers had seen a comfortable 47-29 half-time lead whittled down to just seven points in the third period.
Then Urbiztondo took over, nailing a three-pointer with 2:28 left in the quarter, before another jumper 30 seconds later helped soothe fraying nerves.
It wasn't just his 20-point tally that caught the eye, but the 2012 Philippine Basketball Association champion also contributed a game-high six assists, five rebounds and two steals.
He also committed just one turnover, without any personal fouls, as his big-match experience shone through.
"We knew how crazy the Filipinos are about basketball and Alab really got the crowd going. So we wanted to just stay within ourselves and string some stops because we knew we had no problems with our offence," said Urbiztondo.
Alab were missing star player Bobby Ray Parks Jr, who was benched with an ankle injury. Thus, they were over-reliant on Philippines international Kiefer Ravena (16 points, rebounds) and Lawrence Domingo (18 points, 13 rebounds).
Apart from Ravena's opening basket, the Slingers never relinquished their lead as the visitors looked the hungrier, sharper and more composed of the two teams.
Alexander's eight-point streak at the end of the first quarter set up a 24-14 lead, while Howard chipped in with an identical tally in the second quarter to extend the advantage to 18 points.
Neo Beng Siang's side struggled with Alab's two-three zone defence in the third quarter as the hosts went on a 22-13 run. But the Slingers' famed defence held firm as they successfully restricted scoring opportunities in the closing minutes.
Urbiztondo said: "It was a good team performance and we must stick to our system.
"We must remember it's not over and we haven't won anything yet.
"The Slingers have not won the ABL before and it's been a while since I played in the Finals, so we have to keep our focus, take one game at a time, and work hard to finish the season on a high."