Slingers rue missed chance
Singapore side now the underdogs as Eastern take 2-1 lead in best-of-five ABL Finals
|SINGAPORE SLINGERS||HONG KONG EASTERN LONG LIONS|
- Eastern lead best-of-five series 2-1
When Joshua Urbiztondo's three-pointer gave the Singapore Slingers a 69-65 lead with less than two minutes to go at the OCBC Arena last night, it looked like the hosts were on the way to victory.
But, careless ball handling and poor shooting by the Slingers allowed the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions to sneak back and win 76-72.
With the victory, Eastern are now 2-1 up in the best-of-five Asean Basketball League Finals.
The championship will be theirs if the debutants win Game Four at the same venue tomorrow.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang couldn't hide his disappointment after the game, and lamented his side's lack of confidence.
He said: "We did not take care of the ball and committed 23 turnovers, which killed us. Anything more than 12 is always going to affect us.
"We also converted just 13 per cent of our three-pointers (two from 15) and struggled from there.
"We wanted to be balanced inside-out, but we were not confident enough to take shots from range and mostly chose to attack the basket.
"The opponents came out aggressive and we didn't handle it well."
The Slingers actually started the brighter side and took a 17-12 first-quarter lead, as Eastern shot a cold 25 per cent from field goals.
But the visitors roared back in the second quarter and led 37-31, before Neo's team composed themselves and went on a 9-0 run to lead 40-39 at half-time.
With the league's top two teams executing good defence, it was always going to be a close encounter, and in the end, refereeing decisions played a part in swinging the momentum.
Slingers centre Justin Howard and swingman Xavier Alexander combined brilliantly to put together a 12-0 run to give their team a 54-51 lead in the third quarter, before controversy struck.
With less than a minute to go in the quarter, when the score was 56-56, Slingers point guard Wong Wei Long's missed lay-up touched the rim, but the shot clock was not reset before Alexander had to rush his shot.
That allowed Eastern to finish the period with a 57-56 lead, setting up a tense finale.
Both teams exchanged leads but ultimately, the Slingers' over-reliance on Howard (31 points, 23 rebounds) and Alexander (23 points, seven rebounds, 13 assists) told.
Point guards Urbiztondo and Wong had a night to forget as they combined for just six points, shooting no better than 20 per cent from field-goal attempts.
Eastern, on the other hand, had a better spread of the points.
Star point guard Marcus Elliott posted 21 points and nine rebounds, and former NBA centre Joshua Boone had 18 points.
But it was local forward Fong Shing Yee who came up big with four points in the final minute.
Neo challenged his side to take the series to Game Five, which will be played in Hong Kong on Wednesday if the Slingers can win tomorrow's Game Four.
The 49-year-old said: "We wanted to win the title in front of our own fans, but now we have no choice but to aim to take it to Hong Kong.
"We need our point guards to be more confident and organise the offence better.
"I'm happy with Xavier's performance tonight, but he had too much to do.
"The rest of the team have to step up.It really is about whether we can work as a team and whether we want the win more than the opponents now."