Finals heartbreak for Slingers, again
ABL title remains elusive as Neo's men lose second successive Finals
|SINGAPORE SLINGERS||HONG KONG EASTERN LONG LIONS|
- Eastern Long Lions win best-of-five series 3-1
A tattoo on Singapore Slingers swingman Xavier Alexander's left calf reads: God gives His toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.
Last night at the OCBC Arena, the 28-year-old American and his teammates must have experienced one of the most difficult defeats in their careers as they conceded the Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals 3-1 to the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions after a double overtime 82-80 loss.
Despite suffering a second successive ABL Finals heartbreak, the Slingers showed great sportsmanship to mingle with their supporters after the game, but the pain was evident from their tears and forlorn expressions.
"It definitely hurts, but we can take so much from this when our team gave their all out on the court," said Alexander, who posted 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists yesterday.
"Eastern are also a great team and it was an intense battle. Unfortunately, a few of the possessions just did not go our way."
Slingers centre Justin Howard, who claimed 20 points and 26 assists, added: "We came back for the championship, so to finish second again is frustrating.
"Losing by two points in double overtime, you think about all the small plays that we couldn't finish off, and that's what cost us."
It was neck-and-neck for most of the match, with the difference between both teams never stretching beyond seven points.
The Slingers' first-quarter 21-20 lead was overturned by Easter, who ended the half 39-37 up.
They were left to rue two scoring droughts in the second half.
Despite Slingers point guard Joshua Urbiztondo managing to lure his opposite number Marcus Elliott into a technical foul at the start of the third quarter, they went almost four minutes without a single basket after that as Eastern led 53-46, before a late surge saw them go ahead 59-55 as Alexander capped the quarter with a dunk.
But they couldn't build on the momentum in the fourth quarter, failing to score for more than four minutes as Elliott took over with three triples.
Urbiztondo also made two three-pointers, including one that tied the game at 68-68 to force overtime as Eastern's Joshua Boone and Tyler Lamb missed good chances to kill the game.
At the end of the first overtime period, after Urbiztondo fouled out, the Slingers had the opportunity to take the Finals series to a fifth game as they had the last possession at 74-74, but Alexander could not convert his jumper.
In double overtime, despite Slingers forward Ng Hanbin also disqualified after clocking five fouls, they had the lead once at 78-77, but could not find their scoring touch to pull away.
Elliott's three-point play and a Lamb lay-up brought the visitors to 82 points, which the hosts could not match as Leon Kwek's last-ditch jumper flew past the basket, silencing the home crowd.
Eastern coach Eduard Torres said: "This feels unbelievable and we deserve it for the great effort we showed the whole season.
"We played against huge competitors and were humbled in Game 1. The key was rebounding from that and winning Game 2 even after Elliott's ejection and Boone's injury.
"That gave us the confidence to come here and take the title back."
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang accepted responsibility for the defeat, and said: "I take the blame because I did not handle the plays well.
"It definitely feels bad because we lost last year as well and, this time, we lost the title in front of our home crowd.
"But I'm proud of how far the boys have come with the injuries we had.
"Overall, it was an achievement to reach the Finals again.
"For now, I believe we all need a break before thinking about how we can move forward for the next season."
ABL 2016/2017 AWARDS
- MVP (local): Bobby Ray Parks Jr. (Alab Pilipinas)
- MVP (heritage): Tyler Lamb (Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions)
- Coach of the Year: Eduard Torres (Eastern)
- Defensive Player of the Year: Justin Howard (Singapore Slingers)
- MVP (world import): Marcus Elliott (Eastern)