SINGAPORE - The Singapore Slingers made good on their promise to avoid another late capitulation, but only just, as they had their home fans at the OCBC Arena sweating in their seats.
Leading Macau Wolf Warriors by eight points at half-time, the Slingers were down 63-58 with less than six minutes to go, before an almighty rally helped them to a 76-72 Asean Basketball League victory on Sunday (Dec 22).
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "We started and ended the game really well, but in between, we were sloppy in defence, our offence was not going well, and we committed early fouls.
"But with five minutes to go, there was a lot of time to come back if we stayed positive, which we did."
With the Wolf Warriors missing coach Todd Purves and assistant Jordan Collins as the Americans could not exit China owing to visa issues, the Slingers burst out of the traps with a 19-10 first-quarter lead.
However, familiar foe Doug Herring Jr, who was key to CLS Knights Indonesia's ABL Finals upset over the Slingers in May, came alive with his near-unstoppable dribbles and scoring as the Wolf Warriors clawed their way back into the game.
As the Slingers struggled to find their shooting range from the field and charity stripe, the visitors edged ahead and there were fears another late collapse similar to last week's loss at Alab Pilipinas was going to materialise.
But Xavier Alexander again showed his ABL world import MVP credentials by aggressively attacking the basket, drawing fouls, and leading the way in general with an excellent triple-double of 23 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
The 31-year-old American, who also made seven of his last eight free-throw attempts to ease frazzled nerves, said: "I got to step up and be the leader. We came out aggressive and we should stay that way until we are up by 20 or 30 points.
"It's all about being confident in what we can do, and even when we are behind, we always felt we were one stop away from winning the game."
New Slingers guard Marcus Elliott, who tallied 15 points, eight rebounds and one assist, exemplified that positive attitude. The 35-year-old former world import MVP had missed all six of his three-point attempts, when Alexander found him beyond the arc with just one minute left on the clock and a mere one-point lead.
With ice in his veins, Elliott drained his shot from downtown to give the Slingers a four-point lead which they never relinquished, as they eked out their first win of the season.
The American, who had run into foul trouble late in the third quarter, said: "Honestly, getting to four fouls early on and having to be benched made me even angrier and I was determined to be aggressive whenever I was told to get back on.
"But it is not just about me or the imports. We need the local players just as much because they are also key to what we do."
Indeed, Delvin Goh also contributed 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while fellow forward Leon Kwek showed great hustle to strip Julian Boyd of the ball for a lay-up after Elliott's trey, giving his team a 74-68 lead with just 19 seconds left.
Neo said: "We have a good mix of imports and local players who are experienced in the league, which is an advantage for us. It is also good we go into the new year with a win, and we thank the fans for getting us over the line."
The Slingers will have a festive season break until Dec 27 before returning to train for back-to-back away games against Fubon Braves and Formosa Dreamers on Jan 4 and 5 respectively. Their next home game is against Saigon Heat on Jan 8.