Singapore Slingers claim Game 1 of the Asean Basketball League Finals
Forward sinks crucial 3-pointer as Slingers pull off surprise Game 1 win in Finals series
REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR
WESTPORTS MALAYSIA DRAGONS 80
SINGAPORE SLINGERS 84
Throughout the night, he struggled to find the basket and the frustration was evident when he was handed a technical foul in the second quarter during Game 1 of the best-of-five Asean Basketball League Finals.
But, with just 12.9 seconds left on the clock, Singapore Slingers forward Wu Qingde drained a magnificent three-pointer from the right side of the court to seal a sensational come-from-behind 84-80 win over hosts Westports Malaysia Dragons at the Maba Stadium, as the visitors claimed the all-important opening victory in the series.
The 23-year-old national serviceman told The New Paper: "I think I missed eight shots in the first half, but my team gave me the confidence to keep trying.
"The coach and the players kept urging me to shoot when I was open and I'm happy to contribute to the win.
"But it was not about that one shot. We played good defence when we had to."
That did not come naturally to the Slingers initially, as they conceded loose turnovers, especially in the first half.
Neo Beng Siang's men were down 23-14 in the first quarter, but managed to haul themselves back and lead 26-25 early in the second period.
Poor defence allowed the Dragons to break away to a 49-38 lead at half-time, with Filipino swingman Matthew Wright dominating with 20 points in an enthralling match which saw emotions run high, even in the stands.
Although the Majulah Singapura was impeccably observed, the Malaysian fans were merciless in their booing - NBA style - when it came to free throws by the visiting players.
A few held up a crudely-made sign that read: "Wong Wei Long, we know what you did last Christmas."
They were referring to an incident last December, when Slingers point-guard Wong Wei Long punched Dragons' shooting guard Wong Yi Hou in a 78-71 win and was banned two matches for unprofessional conduct.
On the Slingers bench, Neo was clearly unhappy with his team in disarray, launching the hairdryer treatment right after the second-quarter buzzer, jumping and screaming into the face of his two-metre centre Delvin Goh.
Whatever he said in the locker room worked as they narrowed the gap to 64-62 after the third quarter, with Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia the frustrated one as Wright cooled to score just two points in the second half.
The wind was now in the Slingers' sails as they went on an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to open up a 77-69 lead, with swingman Xavier Alexander easily the man-of-the-match.
The 27-year-old American was impressive at both ends of the court, pouring in 27 points (an impressive 73.3 field-goal percentage), pulling down 15 rebounds and chalking up nine assists and five steals.
But even the one they called Professor X lost his concentration late in the game, conceding possession and allowing Calvin Godfrey to nail a three-pointer to bring the Dragons to within one at 80-81, before Wu sealed the deal.
Said Neo: "We struggled early on maybe because this was the first final for some of the guys. They made silly mistakes because of fear and pressure.
"That was my point to the team at half-time, to play our game and concentrate on defence.
"I'm pleased with our big centre Justin Howard (20 points), who finished the game without foul trouble, and (point-guard) Kris Rosales (11 points) did well in defence, coming back from a hand injury.
"As for Qingde, we know what he can bring to the team, so we told him to keep shooting when he gets into an open position. We believe in him, so we told him not to adjust anything, let the others do the adjusting to get him in an open position, and he delivered."
● Slingers lead 1-0 in best-of-five series.
“We want to win Game 2, bring a good advantage back to Singapore and win the series in front of our fans at home.”
— Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang. Game 2 will be held in KL tomorrow.