Basketball: Slingers’ ABL semi-final win over Saigon Heat marred by injuries to key players

Singapore Slingers' Xavier Alexander driving to the basket during Game 1 of the Asean Basketball League semi-finals on Monday. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SLINGERS

SINGAPORE – The Singapore Slingers have one foot in the Asean Basketball League Invitational Finals after a 94-82 win over the Saigon Heat on Monday. But injuries to key players during Game 1 of their best-of-three semi-finals in Ho Chi Minh City have cast a shadow over their chances of progressing.

With slightly over a minute to go, the team’s talisman Kentrell Barkley appeared to twist his ankle. The American had to be helped by teammates Xavier Alexander and Delvin Goh as he limped off the court at the Nguyen Du Arena.

Just five minutes earlier, fellow import Chanceler Gettys had suffered a leg cramp. While the 2.1m centre completed the game, he appeared to be moving gingerly at times.

Gettys, who scored a team-high 24 points, is expected to recover swiftly, but Barkley will need further checks.

Hailing his teammates as “warriors”, Alexander believes both his compatriots will be available for Game 2 at the same venue on Wednesday.

He said: “KB is big for us every day. Every game, he is special for us on both ends of the floor. We will hope for the best for him and, if he is not available, we will do whatever we need to do to try and get the win.”

He also praised the team’s Game 1 performance, saying: “We’ve wanted to get better throughout the season and today we showed just that.

“We played smart and when we play our brand of basketball, it’s tough for any opponent. We continued to give each other confidence (no matter the score) and remained together as a team.”

Both teams traded baskets at the start before the Slingers slowly pulled away to lead, courtesy of sharp shooting from Barkley and Alexander.

Never one to back down, the Heat took advantage of brief lapses from the Slingers to lead 20-18 after the first quarter.

The Slingers rebuilt a six-point cushion in the second quarter but conceded eight consecutive points to allow the Heat to regain the lead at 39-37. The hosts then had to take off Jeremy Combs after he picked up a third foul.

Key blocks from Barkley and the introduction of Jackson Mah, who contributed six points in six minutes, then saw the Slingers hold on to a 47-44 advantage at the end of the half.

That lead was trimmed to 66-64 at the end of the third quarter, but the Slingers upped the ante and showed their grit in the last period as the Heat lost steam, allowing the visitors to pull away and clinch a crucial 94-82 victory.

Alexander scored 12 points, while Larry Liew, who was handed his first start after seven games, was the highest-scoring local with 17 points.

Larry Liew was the highest scoring local with 17 points as the Singapore Slingers beat Saigon Heat 94-82 in Game 1 of the 2023 Asean Basketball League Invitational semi-finals. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SLINGERS

Liew, 29, thought the team did well at both ends and added that coach Neo Beng Siang’s clear instructions helped the players stay composed.

On Game 2, he said: “We are confident in ourselves. We will play hard and get ourselves prepared.”

But Barkley’s potential absence will be a big blow to the Slingers’ hopes of reaching their fourth ABL Finals. Besides on-court contributions – he had 20 points, 10 rebounds and four crucial blocks in Game 1 – he frequently calls for huddles on court to help his teammates regroup.

Neo said the team will be affected should Barkley be ruled out, but he is still confident of winning on Wednesday.

He added: “This win is big for us, there were ups and downs during the game but we stayed together and made good shots from the arc.

“On Wednesday, we just need to stay positive and together when things are not going well.”

In the other semi-final, Hong Kong Eastern beat NS Matrix Malaysia 76-51 to lead their series.

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