Basketball: Slingers' mean defence key to success in ABL Finals

Centre Justin Howard has been a huge presence at both ends. At 2.1m, he will be a key defensive figure if the Slingers are to end their wait for the ABL title. The American has averaged 24.4 points and 18.1 rebounds in the regular season.
Centre Justin Howard has been a huge presence at both ends. At 2.1m, he will be a key defensive figure if the Slingers are to end their wait for the ABL title. The American has averaged 24.4 points and 18.1 rebounds in the regular season.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

All season long, the Singapore Slingers' defence has proven to be their best asset - an astute controlling of the game tempo and tenacious wing defence earning them the best defensive record in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) regular season.

And as they prepare to tackle the top-seeded Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions in the best-of-five ABL Finals, the Singapore side know that this much-vaunted strength holds the key to them lifting the title for the first time ever.

The two sides meet today in Wan Chai's Southorn Stadium in what promises to be a intriguing clash between the league's best offence and its meanest defence.

Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "Certainly we've worked a lot on our defence in practice. The key is to communicate and make sure everyone knows what to do on the rotation.

"Hong Kong's three-point shooting is their biggest weapon. We have to contest every shot and try to limit their threes."

Key to their defensive play has been American import Justin Howard. The 2.1-m tall centre has been dominant in the paint, grabbing a whopping 18.1 rebounds per game in the regular season.

Fellow American Xavier Alexander has also been in inspired form of late, recording two triple- doubles late in the regular season - an ABL record.

Neo also hailed the contribution of the local players. He said: "In both semi-finals, Leon (Kwek) and Delvin (Goh) really stepped up. We need our local players to contribute on both ends to help the team."

This is the Slingers' second straight appearance in the ABL Finals. They fell 2-3 to Westports Malaysia Dragons last season, losing 65-77 in the deciding Game 5 in Kuala Lumpur.

That memory still burns and Kwek said the team have learnt from the missteps of yesteryear .

"I think we relaxed a bit after winning Game 1 last year. We let Game 2 slip away and were basically chasing from then on," said the guard.

"We must focus on every single possession. We're in a good spot right now and the team are really looking forward to the Finals."

HK EASTERN V S'PORE SLINGERS
Finals, Game 1: StarHub Ch202, 8pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Slingers' mean defence key to success in ABL Finals'. Print Edition | Subscribe