Eastern Long Lions roar back in style
Finals series tied at 1-1 as Slingers fail to cope with Hong Kong side's aggression
|HONG KONG EASTERN LONG LIONS||SINGAPORE SLINGERS|
Their big-match temperament was questioned after losing Game One last Saturday, but the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions delivered the perfect response last night by beating the Singapore Slingers 92-84 to level the Asean Basketball League Finals series at 1-1.
There were three ejections for the hosts, one for the visitors, a couple of injuries, a temporary match suspension after some home fans hurled "missiles" onto the Southorn Stadium court, and end-to-end action that saw the momentum switch from one team to the other numerous times.
But, at the end of the pulsating encounter, all that mattered to Eastern was that they eked out a hard-fought Game Two win.
"Luckily, we finally understood that this is a final," said Eastern coach Eduard Torres.
Answering his rallying cry to be more aggressive, the hosts burst out of the blocks as they surged to a seven-point lead in the first quarter, although the Slingers did well to narrow the gap to 25-24 by the end of the opening period.
They even led 31-28 at the start of the second quarter, but Eastern's star point guard Marcus Elliott was on fire as he knocked down 24 points in the first half alone to help his team to a 50-40 lead at half-time.
The Slingers, on the other hand, struggled as star imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander picked up three fouls each.
Controversy then struck with 2:03 left in the third quarter as Elliott was ejected after two technical fouls for protesting against the officials.
With Eastern coach Torres urging the home fans to make their presence felt, it reached fever pitch as cheers and boos were topped off by some supporters throwing objects onto the court, forcing officials to halt play for three minutes.
The stoppage seemed to galvanise the hosts and disrupt the visitors, who levelled the match at 70-70 early in the final quarter with a Wong Wei Long three-pointer, but never managed to take the lead as baskets did not fall their way.
We were not running the offence well. They put pressure on us, forcing us to make 25 turnovers which killed us.Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang
Later on in the match, Steven Guinchard and Fong Shing Yee fouled out for Eastern, as did Howard, but the damage was already done.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang was disappointed that his team did not capitalise on the dramatic dismissal of the 26-point Elliott.
He said: "We were not running the offence well. They put pressure on us, forcing us to make 25 turnovers which killed us.
"Other than being more physical, we need to handle the pressure and control our emotions better.
"Right now, we have to focus on what we have to do individually and as a team, be more positive and bounce back at home with our supporters behind us."
The Slingers still have home-court advantage as they host Eastern for Games Three and Four at the OCBC Arena on Friday and Sunday respectively.
But, with this back-against-the-wall win, Eastern will have every reason to feel they are the ones with the momentum.
Their former NBA centre Joshua Boone, who played on despite a fourth-quarter ankle injury to score 26 points and 16 rebounds, said: "With Elliott already out, I couldn't afford to sit out.
"But I'm incredibly proud of how the bench stepped up to make big stops and contribute points."
Torres added: "We didn't play the right way in Game One, and I'm satisfied with how we played today.
"We have had to overcome tough situations today and it's going to be very tough for the upcoming matches.
"We need to rest, recover and take it step by step."