Slingers rue wasted chances in loss to Hi-tech Bangkok City
Hopes of making ABL final in the balance after attackers waste their chances
SINGAPORE SLINGERS 70
HI-TECH BANGKOK CITY 73
The pre-match talk was all about playing good defence, but what the Singapore Slingers sorely missed in yesterday's Asean Basketball League (ABL) semi-final play-off defeat by defending champions Hi-Tech Bangkok City was their scoring touch.
Point guard Wong Wei Long, forward Xavier Alexander and centre Justin Howard all missed clutch free-throws, as the Slingers lost Game 1 in the best-of-three series 70-73 at the OCBC Arena Hall 1 in front of hundreds of vociferous fans.
Failing to make home advantage count - this was their lowest return at home this season outside of the 63-57 win over Pilipinas MX3 Kings - they could well have thrown away a good chance to make their first ABL final.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "Our defence was average. We allowed some easy threes, but where we struggled big time was in offence.
"We failed to convert our three-pointers and those crucial free-throws missed - we could have gotten six points - was the game-changer."
The Slingers had to play catch up almost throughout the match, enjoying the lead for only less than five minutes of the 40-minute session, although the visitors' advantage was never more than eight points.
Slingers point guard Kris Rosales led the fightback with a game-high 24 points, but he was more of the exception than the rule for the Singaporean side, while Hi-Tech Bangkok City's indomitable centre Charles Christien starred with 22 points and 19 rebounds.
In truth, the hosts slipped up whenever they were close to overturning their opponents, snatching at opportunities from outside the perimeter, missing 16 of 17 three-point attempts, including Rosales' last-gasp attempt that would have taken the tie into overtime.
Despite their profligacy, they actually showed tremendous spirit to take a 65-62 lead in the final quarter, but have only themselves to blame for some wayward shooting and allowing Hi-Tech Bangkok City to convert six of 19 three-pointers.
Post-match, the 2.11m-tall Howard sat slumped beneath the hoop, while his teammates obliged fan requests for wefies and autographs.
The 34-year-old, who averaged 21.3 points during the regular season, could not fathom how he converted only a third of his 15 field-goal attempts.
In the first quarter alone, Howard fired blanks and picked up three personal fouls, leaving Neo with no choice but to sit him out for the second quarter.
He returned to the court after half-time, contributed nine points in the third quarter but could not get into the rhythm of things as he chipped in just three more points in the final period.
"I feel I let the team down with the early fouls," he said. "Bangkok are a big team and I wasn't able to be on the court to help out.
"I will learn from my mistakes and Friday's Game 2 in Bangkok is really do-or-die now. We have the quality to go into every match believing we can win and I'm confident we can take it to Game 3."
The Slingers will take heart from their convincing 84-65 win when they last visited the HiTech Gym last November.
Neo added: "We need to believe and stay positive. Our 16-4 regular season win-loss record was not down to luck. We beat them before in Bangkok and we can do it again.
"The fans have been great in their support and we will keep working hard over these next few days to bring Game 3 back to the OCBC Arena for them."
In the other semi-final, Westports Malaysia Dragons took a 1-0 lead over Saigon Heat with a convincing 84-68 win in Kuala Lumpur.