SINGAPORE - Tears flowed at the OCBC Arena on Sunday (Feb 23) as Singapore Slingers centre Anthony McClain, a towering presence at 2.14-metre, was helped out of the facility by teammates Xavier Alexander and Marcus Elliott after the final buzzer.
Clearly in pain, and distraught, the 31-year-old American has been playing with a foot injury in the past month, and again he struggled to move freely despite making a strong eight-point start in the first quarter of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) game against the Kuala Lumpur Dragons.
McClain's injury proved to be the game changer for rivals KL Dragons, who after going down 20-17 in the opening period, stepped up a couple of gears in the second quarter and never looked back, eventually closing out with a 77-68 victory.
While McClain bravely battled for 37 minutes to contribute 10 points and 12 rebounds, he was clearly off the pace and was unable to make a basket in the second half under some solid visiting defence.
Dragons centre William Artino (16 points, nine rebounds) capitalised under the post at both ends while the speedy Amir Bell (18 points, five rebounds), Cade Davis (15 points, six rebounds) and Malaysia-born Simeon Lepichev (16 points, nine rebounds) also stepped up to lead the Dragons to victory.
The Slingers and Dragons remain seventh and fourth respectively in the 10-team ABL.
Dragons coach Jamie Pearlman said: "McClain dominated early, but Will got back on top, which was decisive.
"The Slingers play with great physicality and Xavier Alexander is a tough guy to stop. They out-rebounded us when they beat us in our last encounter, but we got our share of defensive rebounds today and surged ahead with our quick offensive play. There is no secret formula, it is all about doing the simple things at a high level."
That was what the Slingers failed to do after their encouraging start, which saw local forward Kelvin Lim putting in six points in the first quarter.
The hosts were perfect in their two three-point attempts by half-time, while also shutting out Dragons hotshot Davis from long range, but their hesitancy to pull the trigger proved their downfall, despite the efforts of Elliott (21 points, 7 rebounds) and Alexander (20 points, 6 assists).
Delvin Goh was the leading Singaporean player with six points and six rebounds as Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang bemoaned the poor input from the local roster.
He said: "Kelvin came out with a spurt at the start, but overall I'm not happy with our local players. We give the players the green light to shoot, so it all boils down to our decision-making on the court."
Elliott added: "There's nothing wrong with our physicality, it's all about effort, basketball IQ, and mental strength now. With the young players we have in the team, sometimes we can hit a wall during the season and they can feel discouraged and low in confidence, but we have to fight over this hump.
"Look at Biggie (McClain) giving his all. For someone like him to be in tears shows you how painful it must be for him. We got to rally around one another, check ourselves in terms of individual accountability and take ownership for our own performances."
The Slingers will take on third-placed Formosa Dreamers at home on March 1, but Neo is unsure if McClain, who walked out of the OCBC Arena unassisted with his left foot in a protective cast, will be back next week.
He said: "At the moment, we don't have someone who can take Biggie's place if he is ruled out. It will definitely be a disadvantage but we will work out what is best for us."