Slingers exact revenge on Eastern Long Lions
|HONG KONG EASTERN LONG LIONS||SINGAPORE SLINGERS|
They worked their socks off for three quarters to overturn a deficit that was as wide as eight points, with Justin Howard a major influence as he scored 23 points and claimed 16 rebounds in the first 30 minutes.
But, just as the Singapore Slingers took a 57-55 lead against Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions at the start of the fourth quarter, Howard picked up his fourth personal foul with eight minutes left.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang could be forgiven for fearing the worst, especially since the same opponents had overcome a 13-point gap with just 104 seconds left in the fourth quarter to win 97-95 in overtime when both sides met at the Southorn Stadium in Hong Kong on Dec 7.
Risking an early shower for Howard, Neo kept his big centre on the court.
And the 35-year-old American repaid that faith, cleverly staying out of foul trouble and providing important screens for fellow American and swingman Xavier Alexander to make crucial baskets en route to a 77-71 win.
Alexander scored nine points and two rebounds in the final period for a total of 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists while Howard also chipped in with one point and six rebounds in those 10 minutes.
Despite the two big double-doubles, it was a true team effort that helped the Slingers avenge their only defeat of the season and inflict a first loss on fellow Asean Basketball League title contenders Eastern.
The Slingers (5-1) now lead the six-team league with Eastern (4-1) a close second.
We can go on and take a week off to celebrate Christmas on a positive note.Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang, on going 5-1 up
Shooting guard Ng Hanbin was two-for-two from three-point range in the third quarter and small forward Mitchell Folkoff also had six points.
Forward Leon Kwek regained his scoring touch with 13 points, while point guard Wong Wei Long poached 11 points, eight of which came in the last quarter.
It was Eastern who took the initiative early on.
They led 21-17 in the first quarter, before extending that advantage to 42-36 by half-time.
Eastern shooting guard Tyler Lamb showed just why he was rushed back from a hand injury.
He contributed 23 points, eight steals and six rebounds, while combo guard Marcus Elliott added 24 points and six rebounds.
But the Slingers never allowed the hosts to escape from their sights.
Their dogged defence again came out tops as they restricted Eastern to a 40 per cent field-goal conversion, while they made 60 per cent of their own field goals.
Neo said: "I'm happy because we locked down the defence and we kept on fighting.
"Even though we were down in the first three quarters, we stayed positive and played through tough situations.
"It's good to go 5-1 up and now we can go on and take a week off to celebrate Christmas on a positive note."
The Slingers' next game is an away clash with Westports Malaysia Dragons on Jan 6.