With both sets of players fighting tooth and nail, diving onto the floor to retrieve possession and at times crashing into the advertising boards, the Singapore Slingers looked as if they had done enough to finally get one over their bogey team Hong Kong Eastern last night.
But, despite leading for the most of their Asean Basketball League match at the Southorn Stadium in Hong Kong, the Slingers lost 88-81 and fell to sixth in the 10-team standings with a 6-4 record.
The Slingers seemed to have dealt well with Eastern's familiar foes - 2.29m Samuel Deguara and talisman Marcus Elliott - restricting the centre and guard to just 17 and 22 points respectively.
But they did not count on new guard O'Darien Bassett stepping up with 26 points, seven assists and four steals for Eastern, who had beaten the Slingers in the 2016-17 ABL Finals and edged them 92-89 after double overtime at the OCBC Arena last month.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "Our defence was really bad, especially for the on-ball screens during which we got caught and let the opponents penetrate or take open jump shots."
The Singapore Slingers have lost to Hong Kong Eastern both home and away this season.
The visitors had overturned a seven-point first-quarter deficit, and led 67-62 early in the final period after a Tay Ding Loon three-pointer.
But, despite Xavier Alexander's 29 points, Slingers centre John Fields struggled to convert, and Bassett came alive in the last quarter with 15 points, including three three-pointers, to help Eastern (7-4) complete the double over the Slingers and leapfrog them into fourth place.
The Slingers will make the short trip from Hong Kong to China as they take on the Zhuhai Wolf Warriors tomorrow.
With defending champions Alab Pilipinas (5-1) stunned 72-71 away at Westports Malaysia Dragons - who were inspired by Singaporean guard Jonathan Wong's 21 points and match-winning lay-up - and Formosa Dreamers slipping to fifth after their 116-110 loss to Macau Black Bears, Neo still believes the Slingers can rise to the top.
He said: "I mentioned before this will be a competitive season and the results have proven that.
"I always have belief that the Slingers will be in it with a chance, but we must continue to work hard and improve on our defence, which has always been our foundation."