A pumped-up Singapore Slingers produced one of their best performances of late to beat Alab Pilipinas 77-67 and put themselves in pole position to reach the Asean Basketball League finals for the second straight year.
Entering yesterday's best-of- three semi-finals, the Slingers had struggled with scrappy defensive displays and an inability to close out games.
But the intensity, discipline and fighting spirit that had been absent was on show in front of a sell-out 2,500-strong crowd at the OCBC Arena.
Four Slingers scored double digits, led by American import Xavier Alexander, who collected a game-high 26 points along with seven rebounds and six assists.
Compatriot and centre Justin Howard contributed 15 points, while local players Delvin Goh and point guard Wong Wei Long chipped in with 12 and 11 points respectively for the hosts.
Alexander, a forward who averaged 18.5 points in the regular season, said: "I had trouble falling asleep throughout the whole week and I slept just three hours last night. I was so excited and I kept thinking about the game. We knew how important Game One was.
Points scored by Singapore Slingers forward Xavier Alexander to lead the team to victory. He also chipped in seven rebounds and six assists.
"Today we really showed that we were ready to come out aggressively and attack from the beginning.
"Our defence is our strength and what we count on. So when our opponents were coming back in the final quarter, I told the guys that they are not coming back. We took our time, we ensured that we did not turn our ball over and finished it."
They led through the first three quarters and opened up a 15-point lead before the visitors attempted to mount a comeback late in the fourth, going on a 5-0 run inside a minute to cut the deficit.
But unlike past games when they meekly surrendered a commanding advantage, the Slingers were resolute this time.
Coach Neo Beng Siang praised his defence and said: "We did not have many turnovers (nine) this time, which was something that we were struggling with and it cost us throughout the season.
"Both our offence and defence were good today. We want to see such performance more often, and we have to finish strongly."
His team, which had lost their last two games against Alab, had rediscovered their mojo.
Goh was aggressive all night inside the paint and pulled down five boards. The centre said: "I felt so pumped-up before the game. I felt like I wanted to do more than what I usually do, to attack more and not hold back."
Last season's losing finalist are mindful that the job is not done and travel to the Philippines for Game Two on Friday.
Despite the solid showing, Neo noted that the Slingers have to be consistent and avoid any momentary defensive lapses. He said: "I want them to be switched on for the entire 40-minute game."