Basketball: Slingers face must-win match against Valientes after wilting against Saigon Heat

Singapore Slingers' Xavier Alexander (No. 15) soaring to the basket during an Asean Basketball League Invitational match on Feb 15, 2023. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SLINGERS

SINGAPORE – It is now do-or-die for the Singapore Slingers after their hopes of reaching the Asean Basketball League (ABL) semi-finals were dented in a 71-68 loss to Saigon Heat at the Nguyen Du Stadium on Wednesday.

With an 8-5 win-loss record in the eight-team ABL, the Slingers face fifth-placed Philippine team Zamboanga Valientes (7-6) in a must-win game in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday.

In their previous meeting, the Valientes came from behind to beat the Slingers 87-79 at the OCBC Arena in what was a spectacular collapse for the Singapore side.

Should the Slingers lose again, both teams will have identical win-loss records and the Valientes will progress to the play-offs by virtue of having beaten the Singapore side twice.

Calling it the most important game of the season, Slingers stalwart Delvin Goh has urged his teammates to “bring out the Slingers game”.

He said: “We will go through some of their plays and talk through what we should do to stop them defensively and, of course, tidy up on our offensive end as well.

“For us, the key is always defence and run (so), I think we just need to do a better job on that. We need to keep our composure (and take it) one play at a time.”

The Valientes also boast the addition of two-time National Basketball Association champion Mario Chalmers and the Slingers will have to do more to cope with the physicality of their opponents, something they struggled with in their last meeting.

Coach Neo Beng Siang said: “They are very aggressive and we need to be more aggressive and physical (to get the win). We also need to be very disciplined and stay together as a team.

“Now we will forget about this loss and focus on what we need to do to beat the Valientes.”

Yet it could have been so different had the Slingers held on to a 68-67 lead against the Heat with 1min 27sec remaining. A win on Wednesday would have been enough to book their place in the play-offs.

Both the Slingers and Heat kept it tight at the back from tip-off, but the hosts edged ahead to lead 17-13 after the first quarter.

The Slingers then turned on their offensive prowess in the second quarter. Initially trailing by seven points, they patiently chipped away at the Heat’s lead with their unselfish play while staying alert to get rebounds.

Americans Xavier Alexander and Kentrell Barkley, who scored a game-high 26 points, also forced mistakes from their opponents, resulting in eight first-half turnovers by the Heat and a 36-34 lead for the Slingers.

They widened their advantage to 55-51 after the third quarter and later 63-56 with 5:15 to go. But spurred by their fans, the hosts capitalised on the Slingers’ loss of concentration to clinch a comeback victory which helped them draw level with leaders NS Matrix Malaysia on a 10-3 record.

Neo and Goh were disappointed by the result but commended the team for their fighting performance. Neo said: “We did well to secure the rebounds but we were not strong enough to keep the ball. We fell apart in offence and held the ball for too long.”

Still, Alexander, who racked up 11 points, remains confident the team can bounce back.

He said: “We will rest, regroup and come back at it. It’s one game, we’ll take it one possession at a time, play hard and stay together as a team. We’ll just do our jobs and let the cards fall where they may.”

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