Slingers set-up ABL semi-final showdown with HK Eastern
Singapore side edge out Black Bears to set up last-four showdown with Hong Kong Eastern
The tension was palpable as Singapore Slingers owner Wee Siew Kim called it "the longest 3.7 seconds".
|SINGAPORE SLINGERS||MACAU BLACK BEARS|
|*Slingers win best-of-three tie 2-1|
His team were holding on to a 80-79 lead and possession after Macau Black Bears played the ball out in the decisive Game 3 of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) play-offs quarter-finals yesterday.
John Fields was then fouled by Black Bears' Ryan Watkins with 2.6 seconds remaining and the Slingers centre made the second free-throw to make it 81-79.
In a grandstand finish, teammate Jerran Young did just enough to put off Black Bears guard Mikhael McKinney's last-gasp three-point attempt as 1,700 fans at the OCBC Arena celebrated the Slingers' win, which sent them into the ABL semi-finals.
They will meet 2016/17 champions Hong Kong Eastern in Game 1 on Friday (home), Game 2 on April 18 (away), and Game 3 on April 21 (home, if necessary) in a repeat of that season's finals.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang was not happy with his team's "unacceptable" 19 turnovers, but was relieved they got over the line.
He said: "Though we shot badly, the players were determined. They stuck together as a team and did not give up and I'm happy with that."
Assistant coach and general manager Michael Johnson added: "It was apt we won with a good piece of defence at the end as we limited a team who averaged more than 100 points per game in regular season."
The Slingers got off to a good start and led 26-20 in the first quarter and 44-41 at half-time as Fields impressed with his mid-range shots.
The team also did well not to be distracted by Black Bears assistant coach Mathias Fischer's foul-mouth tirades that went unpunished.
With both sides fighting tooth and nail and diving about for precious possession, the scoreline was tight throughout, with neither team holding a double-digit lead.
However, things went awry for the hosts in the third quarter as guard Young picked up his fourth personal foul early on and had to be benched as the Black Bears thrived on triples and led 60-59 going into the final period.
Neo went for broke as he re-introduced Young, only for Watkins to injure Fields' nose and cause the centre to miss one minute of play.
Nerves also set in for both teams as Fields committed an inbound infringement and an unnecessary foul, while the visitors had two shot-clock violations.
Fortunately, in the nail-biting finale, Young stepped up with nine points in the last 10 minutes, and Fields returned to finish strong with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Fellow American import Xavier Alexander was also key with 24 points before fouling out with 1min 39sec left.
Among the locals, power forward Delvin Goh had nine points and nine rebounds and guard Ng Han Bin chipped in with seven points.
The attention now shifts to the best-of-three semi-finals against Eastern, who defeated the Slingers twice in regular season and beat them 3-1 in the 2016/17 finals.
Alexander said: "I'm definitely confident of making it to the finals. It's been my goal for the last four years and it's still my goal now."
Wee hailed the home fans for their vociferous support and said: "Ticket sales started only on Friday and we managed to get about 1,700 fans. They were on their feet and we really felt them behind our team today. We cannot do without them.
"I have the belief and confidence that as our local and import players mature together, we can go all the way."