SURABAYA - Even before the Singapore Slingers set foot on CLS Knights Indonesia’s home court here, their fans have promised a fiery reception for the visitors ahead of their Asean Basketball League Finals Games 3 and 4 today and on Saturday respectively.
“Welcome to hell.”
“The flying knives are ready to shower your body.”
And these are some of the more printable messages left on the Instagram accounts of Slingers imports John Fields and Xavier Alexander. While some apologised for the vulgar and racist comments of their fellow supporters, others said trash-talking is part of the game.
With the best-of- five series delicately poised at 1-1, it could reach fever pitch as the home fans are known to raise the decibel levels with throaty choruses and the clanging of pot covers to distract opponents.
Knights guard Wong Wei Long, a former Slinger, told The Straits Times: "The Slingers will experience the craziest fans they could imagine. They may have played here before but this is the Finals, the stakes are high, and it will be a more intense atmosphere than their two previous visits.
"We aim to deliver the title for the fans at home.”
Indeed, there were times when the Knights fans' passion threatened to spill over in the Finals. At the OCBC Arena, a handful left their seats to protest a scoreboard error during Game 2 last Sunday and were berated even by the CLS bench.
They also took offence at Fields' antics, which they took to be taunting, even though their own import Doug Herring Jr. also gesticulated at the crowd.
Knights coach Brian Rowsom encroached the field of play on a couple of occasions and even tripped Slingers guard Ng Han Bin at the end of the third quarter.
While Fields has had to bear the brunt of the opposing fans' criticism online, the Slingers centre told ST he is not going to change, and said: "I've seen the messages on social media but I'm gonna stay the same. I love the game and I play with passion, there're no hard feelings and I'm looking forward to playing here.
"After one ABL season, I won't say this is the toughest crowd I've played in front of. It was pretty hard at Saigon Heat because of the noise, but the Knights fans are really passionate, which is good."
However, Slingers veteran Desmond Oh described the 3,000-seater GOR CLS Kertajaya as one of the most uncomfortable away grounds because it does not have an air-conditioning system, and the humidity and sweat could make the court slippery.
He said: "It gets very hot and humid during the game. The crowd doesn't really bother us except for the noise which makes hearing difficult not just for us but also the Knights. And we can always sort this out with the use of hand signs or relaying messages."
"We have overcome all these before when we won one of our previous two visits in regular season, so we know how to prepare and what we should do."
The Knights have lost just three times at home during regular season - including a 71-68 reverse by the Slingers in February - and remain unbeaten during the playoffs.
While sports psychologist Emily Ortega said while the Knights have home court advantage, all is not lost for the Slingers.
She added: "Athletes who have to compete in a hostile away environment will need to be even more focused on the game to block out all the environmental factors that make it more challenging for them to perform well.
"To get in the zone, athletes commonly know what are the things they need to do to get them there. They need to remember they are playing the same game and keep their focus on the game plan, rather than get caught up in how difficult the circumstances are."
Slingers coaches Neo Beng Siang and Michael Johnson will no doubt urge their players to do just that as they plot to win at least one away game or lift the trophy here.
"We did a good job in Game 2, so we will stick to the game plan and if the Knights can handle that, we are prepared to make changes during the game," said Neo, who had the fans turned off during Monday's training session at the Singapore Basketball Centre, which does not have air conditioning, to replicate the away conditions.
Johnson added: "I told the players to just play basketball and focus on the game because we expect the Knights management to act professionally and ensure everyone's safety.
"It will be a great environment, very loud, and it should be fun."