They had reached this stage of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) on three previous occasions but faltered when the pressure was on.
This time, the Singapore Slingers refused to let their shot at a maiden ABL title slip through their hands again. They edged out Hi-Tech Bangkok City 68-60 in the third game of their play-off semi-final series at the OCBC Arena yesterday.
The 2-1 series win means the Slingers advance to the ABL Finals for the first time since the competition started in 2009. They were eliminated at the semi-final stage in 2011 and last year by the same opponents.
Hi-Tech had won the first game of the semi-finals 73-70 in Singapore while the Slingers took the second game in Bangkok 95-66.
Yesterday, the second-seeded Slingers repeated Friday's ploy of limiting the defending champions' post players' impact on the game. It paid off.
Centre Christien Charles, the Slingers' tormentor in Game 1 with 22 points, and fellow big man Steven Thomas were nullified by the excellent home defence. They combined for only 18 points, less than a third of the team's total tally.
Yet the Slingers did not have it all their way, with point guard Kris Rosales, hampered by a finger injury, playing only 10 minutes.
They also struggled with foul trouble late in the game, with centre Justin Howard fouling out.
Despite Hi-Tech mounting a late charge to pull within six points with two minutes left, the Slingers held on to the cheers of the 1,300-strong crowd. The rapturous applause and players' jubilant celebrations as the buzzer sounded spoke volumes of not just their joy but also relief at finally getting the better of their team that had been their nemesis.
Xavier Alexander deservedly claimed the man-of-the-match accolade after leading the Slingers with 29 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. The American led all scorers. Team-mates Wu Qingde (14) and Howard (15) also contributed to the cause.
Fred Goldstein was Hi-Tech's top scorer again with 19 points.
Said Alexander: "I felt like I let us down in Game 1. In Game 2 I had foul trouble. (But) my team-mates had my back... I just wanted to focus and make sure we got this win today, I came out aggressive and we were able to be successful."
Having been with the team since 2009, point guard Wong Wei Long felt "great" about having the chance to finally repay his coaches' faith in him and his team-mates.
He said: " It's been a long process, especially for the locals. The coaches have been very patient with us... I'm very grateful to my coaches. This year is our chance to finally win the championship (for them)."
The Slingers will now face Westports Malaysia Dragons in the finals.
The first two games of the series will be played in Kuala Lumpur on Friday and Sunday due to the Malaysians' top seeding. The series moves to Singapore on Friday, March 18.
The first team to bag three wins will be champions.
While it appears the Slingers are disadvantaged by the finals' format, coach Neo Beng Siang believes his team can make an impression in the games in KL. After all, they recorded eight consecutive wins on the road earlier in the season.
He said: "Playing two away games does not bother us, because we played them in KL before and beat them, (same goes for) Thailand.
"We (have) shown that we are capable of playing anybody, either home or away... we are confident about that."