They were faced with a raucous crowd in rival territory, and looked second-best after another slow start to the game.
Yet the Singapore Slingers refused to wilt in the face of adversity, putting up a sterling second-half performance to earn a crucial 84-80 win over the Westports Malaysia Dragons in Game One of the Asean Basketball League Finals.
The second seeds were lacklustre in the first half at the Maba Stadium, failing to defend quick breaks and free shots from the home team, who boast the league's best offence with an average of 93.2 points per game.
The Singapore outfit went into half-time trailing 38-49, but started the second half with renewed vigour.
The sturdy defence that had served them well throughout the season came to the fore again, limiting the top-seeded Malaysians to just 31 points in the second half, with swingman Matthew Wright managing a mere two points after a scintillating 20-point first half.
The return of point guard Kris Rosales, who was hampered by a hand injury in the semi-final series against defending champions Hi-Tech Bangkok City, brought extra thrust to the visitors, who scored 46 in the second half.
At the end of the third quarter, the Slingers reduced the gap to just two points, 64-66, before they finally seized the lead early in the fourth.
A three-pointer from Dragons' forward Calvin Godfrey closed the gap to a single point with barely 20 seconds left but Slingers' forward Wu Qingde returned the favour moments later, silencing the partisan crowd and sending the away bench into euphoria as the gap opened to 84-80 before the buzzer sounded.
The Slingers' Xavier Alexander and Justin Howard led the overall scoring with 27 and 24 points respectively, while Wright (22) and centre Reginald Johnson (20) were top scorers for the Dragons.
With the two teams facing off again at the same venue on Sunday in Game Two, Slingers assistant coach Michael Johnson is hoping his charges will bring another good result back home, where Game Three will be played. The first team with three victories win the title.
He said: "It's a big win, in essence we're taking home-court advantage away. If we win on Sunday, we go back home with a 2-0 lead. If we don't, we still tie (the series), with two wins in Singapore to win the championship.
"We're not satisfied, we can do a lot better, I'm sure they'll refocus and do some stuff for Sunday, there's a lot of things we can improve on."