SINGAPORE - With the Fubon Braves trailing the Singapore Slingers by four points near the end of the third quarter on Saturday (Jan 4), the capacity 7,000-strong crowd at the Taipei Heping Basketball Gymnasium urged their star player OJ Mayo to shoot.
The Fubon Braves guard looked up at the clock and held out his hand, as if to assure the home faithful: "I got this."
With 20 seconds left, the former Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks player ran down the clock before nailing an ice-cold three-pointer, his sixth of the evening, to reduce the arrears and get Fubon Braves back on track to eventually beat the visitors 83-77 and improve to 6-3 in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).
The 2008-09 National Basketball Association (NBA) Rookie of the Year runner-up was a constant thorn in the Slingers' side as he tallied a game-high 24 points.
Braves coach Hsu Chin-che told The Straits Times: "OJ Mayo is a great example of a player full of confidence who is derived from a great amount of self-discipline.
"During training, I always tell the local players to learn from his focus on the process over the result. For example, if the end goal is to make 100 baskets, OJ would finish the exercise fastest, but he takes the time to go through game scenarios, so he is ready and confident like you saw him out there today.
"Unlike many star imports, he is also open to comments and suggestions, and he is a big plus to our team."
Throw in 2011 NBA Development League champion Charles Garcia (22 points, 8 rebounds) and last season's ABL champion Maxie Esho (15 points, 8 rebounds), and the Braves have a potent triumvirate that makes them contenders in their debut season.
But the Slingers have not made three ABL Finals in four seasons by fearing illustrious opponents.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXZ4gKLcFlw
Despite trailing by 14 points in the second quarter, they rallied for a superb 28-16 third quarter to take the lead, and Hsu said: "Before the game, I wrote on the whiteboard that the opponents' strengths were offensive rebounds, second chance points, and creating free throw opportunities.
"They did exactly that, beating us in offensive rebounds 22-8 and 21-4 in second chance points. In the third quarter, quite a few of our players also reached three fouls which meant I had to rotate and take a hit."
However, with the first five restored, the Braves went on a 10-0 run at the start of the final period which eventually proved decisive despite the best efforts from Xavier Alexander (20 points, 9 rebounds), Leon Kwek (18 points), Marcus Elliott (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Anthony McClain (16 points, 13 rebounds).
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "OJ hit some crucial treys, and their back-up point guard Hung Chih-shan also made all his three triple attempts, which hurt us.
"I'm not happy with how we started the fourth quarter because despite two time-outs, we didn't manage to run our offence. After some turnovers, our heads were down. But this is only our third game of the season and we are showing signs that we are starting to gel."
The Slingers (1-2) will have no time to dwell on their defeat as they have less than 24 hours to recover before Sunday's match against Formosa Dreamers at Changhua Stadium, more than a two-hour drive from Taipei. They will meet former Slingers player Jerran Young, who is averaging 16.5 points and 12.1 rebounds since joining the Dreamers.
Neo said: "We know Jerran has good athleticism and has made a good start as a forward this season. But we will focus on our own recovery and our systems instead of worrying about one player."