Slingers off to a flying start
The Singapore outfit begin the ABL semi-final play-offs in superb fashion, downing the Alab Pilipinas
|SINGAPORE SLINGERS||ALAB PILIPINAS|
The Singapore Slingers hit the CTRL-ALT-DEL buttons and came charging out like a rejuvenated side for the Asean Basketball League semi-final play-offs.
In front of a sell-out 3,000-strong crowd at the OCBC Arena yesterday, they pulled off a dominating 77-67 win over Alab Pilipinas in Game 1 of the best-of-three series.
They displayed superb control, found alternates to step up for those who under-performed, and in centre Delvin Goh, they found another big-game player they needed.
The Slingers can frustrate with their inability to kill off games as much as they excite with their dynamism, especially when they blow huge leads to make life difficult for themselves.
Neo Beng Siang's men came into this match on the back of five losses in nine games, as well as defeats by the Filipino side in their last two head-to-head meetings.
But, apart from a slow start which saw the visitors take an early 6-2 lead, the Slingers never looked back after surging ahead 12-10, before finishing the first quarter 19-16 up.
They extended their advantage to 41-31 at half-time, and then to 61-49 by the end of the third quarter, before comfortably seeing off Alab 77-67.
Neo said: "I'm very satisfied because we were switched on the entire game. There was good energy in offence and defence. We have to keep this up, win Game 2 away on Friday to get ourselves into the finals with some time to rest.
"For this match, we wanted to make it a defensive battle because that's our strength, which got us to the finals last year.
"We stuck to our plan for the full game, defended well, restricted their key players, such that even when we didn't score, we made sure we pressed them to win back possession."
Indeed, only in five matches this season have Alab recorded fewer than the 67 points they notched yesterday.
The Slingers' strong defence also ensured they came out tops in key statistics such as field-goal percentage (41-35) and turnovers (9-15).
Alab's star player, point guard Bobby Ray Parks, was kept on such a tight leash that he scored just four points before being hauled off with an ankle injury, while Philippines international Kiefer Ravena's 16 points on his debut was too little, too late.
It is a well-known fact that the Slingers have a thin squad.
With key injuries ruling forwards Wu Qingde and Kelvin Lim out of the season, they had just 10 men on their roster, compared to Alab's travelling 12.
The Singapore side have also made it a point to sign three imports instead of the four allowed, to ensure more playing time and development opportunities for local players.
On top of that, they found it difficult to find a foreign point guard to organise the team.
But, there were always players ready to pick up the mantle, and so it proved yesterday.
Joshua Urbiztondo is the third foreign point guard to try out for the Slingers this term and it seems he arrived just in time to aid their championship push.
The 34-year-old Filipino-American can definitely do better, but his eight-point tally yesterday and 8.4 point-per-game average after five matches are already more than what his predecessors could muster.
On the local front, forwards Mitchell Folkoff and Leon Kwek did not have the best of games, while Ng Hanbin was still feeling the effects of concussion, as they combined for just two points among them.
Up stepped centre Delvin Goh with 12 points and point guard Wong Wei Long with 11 points.
Neo said: "The players are all prepared and ready, and even for those who did not score as many points as usual, I can see that they have tried and contributed to the team's defence."
"I'm very satisfied because we were switched on the entire game. There was good energy in offence and defence. We have to keep this up, win Game 2 away on Friday to get ourselves into the finals with some time to rest."Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang
American duo Xavier Alexander (24 points, nine rebounds) and Justin Howard (17 points, 12 rebounds) shone for the Slingers, but the 2m-tall Delvin Goh also caught the eye with his outstanding display.
A menace at both ends of the court yesterday, it seemed like the 21-year-old has developed an affinity for semi-finals, having put in similarly solid shifts against Hi-Tech Bangkok City at the same stage last season.
He said: "I'm definitely pumped up for the play-offs. I think the coach played me because I can be of help against the opponents' two big players and I can guard their imports.
"But I also told myself to have an open mindset in offence so that I can contribute more.
"I feel having the play-offs experience last year and having played in the Yuwang East Malaysia Basketball League with Brunei's Beruang Blazers have helped me develop into a more mature and all-rounded player."
The Slingers also showed how a local sports team can get the best out of its NSF-athlete with good communication and planning with the Ministry of Defence.
Neo said: "We are glad to have Delvin train with us the whole week despite his National Service commitments. It's tough to rush to training but he has been very active and positive.
"We need him for Game 2 and even though he will travel only on the day itself, we still appreciate having him in our team."