SINGAPORE - With two consecutive losses and only four matches left - three of them away - the Singapore Slingers face an uphill task to finish second in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) ahead of the play-offs.
Despite a stirring fourth-quarter fightback which tied the game at 88-88 and forced overtime, the home side could not maintain their momentum against CLS Knights Indonesia and lost 99-95 at the OCBC Arena on Sunday (March 10).
The Slingers are third in the 10-team ABL with a 13-9 record, behind leaders San Miguel Alab Pilipinas (18-5) and Formosa Dreamers (17-6).
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang was critical of his team's performance and said they paid the price for being "complacent".
"I'm not very happy because I told them that this game was very important for us if we wanted to get to second. We started off really badly defensively and gave them a lot of open shots," he said.
"We also made a couple of forced turnovers when the ball was in our hands because we were sloppy. Now, we have to do our best to try and lock down the third spot."
The first quarter was a free-flowing affair, but it was the Knights who took an early 23-19 lead.
As Neo pointed out, the Slingers then switched off in the next two quarters as careless play and unnecessary fouls saw them trail the Knights 74-64 at the end of the third quarter.
But a pep talk from Neo before the fourth quarter roused the Slingers from their slumber as they scored 24 points to tie the game at 88-88 and force overtime.
"I told them that they have to believe as a group; push the ball and keep running," he said.
In the absence of foreign import John Fields, who fouled out, fellow American Jerran Young stepped up in overtime to score five points to give the Slingers a 93-90 lead.
The crowd was in full voice as they roared the home side on, but a few misses by the Slingers spurred the Knights who edged in front 96-95. Swingman Xavier Alexander then missed two crucial free throws which ended the Slingers' hopes of another comeback.
"During overtime, we got a good start on them, but we turned the ball over a couple of times," said Neo, who reserved praise for Young, who top-scored for the Slingers with 41 points including six three-pointers.
"Offensively, we were too stagnant and we didn't convert the turnovers."
Despite coming up short in the end, shooting guard Ng Han Bin was proud of his team for not giving up.
"A lot of times when you lag behind, it's easy to just give up and we didn't do that today," said the 30-year-old. "Even without John Fields, I think everyone stepped up. Though the result didn't go our way, that's all part of the game.
"Moving forward, I think that we need to be aggressive from the start and give it to the opponents rather than wait for them to come at us because when we're down, it becomes a dogfight."
The Slingers' next game is away to Westports Malaysia Dragons on Friday (March 15).