ABL FINALS: GAME 5
Westports Malaysia Dragons 77
Singapore Slingers 65
(Dragons win series 3-2)
Just last Sunday, elation and jubilation engulfed the Singapore Slingers as they won Game 4 of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals in late, dramatic fashion.
Yesterday, however, dejection and disappointment were etched on each of their faces at the Maba Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
For a coveted first ABL title proved a step too far, as they succumbed 65-77 to the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the winner-takes-all Game 5.
Poor shooting - coupled with a vociferous 2,000-strong crowd that spurred the home team to a sterling, nerveless display - was the main cause of the Slingers' downfall.
Head coach Neo Beng Siang did not mince his words, saying: "Our offence killed us today.
"We did a good job of holding them to not more than a 20-point lead, but towards the last part of the fourth quarter, we ran out of steam."
LET DOWN BY TEAM'S ATTACK
Our offence killed us today. We did a good job of holding them to not more than a 20-point lead, but towards the last part of the fourth quarter, we ran out of steam.
NEO BENG SIANG, Singapore Slingers coach, on his side's Achilles heel.
For all their incessant defensive hustle, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Slingers in the Dragons' lair.
Their 250 travelling fans were easily overshadowed by the home fans' blaring horns, giant face cut-outs and flags.
In such a cauldron-like atmosphere, it was imperative for the Slingers to be quick off the blocks and build an early lead to silence the boisterous crowd.
They failed miserably on that count, scoring just two field goals in the opening quarter and quickly trailing 9-16 to the Dragons.
The hosts' well-oiled offence seemed charged up by the noisy support and, led by an impeccable Jason Brickman, they seized control of the game, never relinquishing their lead.
In contrast, the Slingers' day went from bad to worse as American import Xavier Alexander was hit with two early fouls and had his time on the court subsequently restricted by foul trouble.
Without the swingman's offensive output, they had little hope of matching the Dragons' balanced attack, and the hosts opened up a 19-point lead towards the end of the second quarter with Matthew Wright's three-pointer.
Through determined defending, and the offensive efforts of centre Justin Howard (27 points) and point guard Kris Rosales (22 points), the Slingers clawed the gap back to 10 points (65-55) midway through the final quarter.
But when Alexander fouled out with about three minutes remaining, hopes of an unlikely comeback were effectively extinguished.
As the final buzzer sounded, the stadium erupted as confetti fell from the roof over the exuberant Dragons players.
Their coach Ariel Vanguardia, who shed tears of joy after the game, said: "We're under-rated defensively, nobody gives us credit. But we proved that we can defend - we limited the Slingers to 65 points on a championship game."
Brickman, who was named the ABL Finals' Most Valuable Player after a 22-point, seven-rebound and seven-assist performance, added: "Playing at home, I just wanted to try and be more aggressive and shoot more. This award is very special to me."
The spent Slingers, on the other hand, could only reflect upon poor offensive performances from Alexander (four points), Wu Qingde (two points), Wong Wei Long (four points) and captain Desmond Oh (zero points). Wu and Wong, the three-point specialists, made only one long-range shot from a combined 21 attempts.
Said Filipino import Rosales: "It's tough. We came as far as we could, so it kind of hurts when so many of our fans came down but ultimately we failed to win it.
"It's been a great season, I think there is a lot of progress for Singapore basketball. Hopefully we can see the same again in the following seasons."