The Singapore Slingers failed to make the most of home advantage, as they lost 72-76 yesterday to the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions in Game Three of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals.
The local side, who lost the chance to claim their maiden championship on home soil, now trail the best-of-five series 1-2 and face a must-win Game Four tomorrow at the OCBC Arena.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang bemoaned his team's poor defence. He said: "They made shots from the outside and our defence really didn't communicate to defend successfully.
"The fouls also affected us as they made use of the opportunity to score. One-on-one containment was horrible today. They penetrated really well and we struggled to get ourselves together in time.
"The thing we lack is always defence. Be it individually or as a team. Even last year it was defence that we lacked."
His players struggled to find their range from the three-point line, making just two from 15 attempts. They were also sloppy in possession and committed 21 turnovers, with centre Justin Howard contributing seven himself.
The American led all scorers with 31 points and 23 rebounds, while compatriot Xavier Alexander was three boards shy of a triple-double. He had 23 points and 13 assists.
The other three Slingers starters however, managed just 13 points.
Guard Wong Wei Long, who had just three points including a free throw - and zero rebounds or assists - said the team needed to pick themselves up.
He added: "Coming towards the end of the quarter, mental strength comes to play more. I'm going to die for every ball in the last match and do my part to win."
The hosts made a strong start and led 17-12 after the first quarter and 40-39 at the interval. Eastern, who were paced by guard Marcus Elliott's 21 points, opened the topsy-turvy third quarter with a 12-2 run. But the Slingers replied with 12 straight points and trailed 56-57 going into the final period.
Eastern, who out-rebounded the Slingers 43-30, hung on and will now fancy their chances of clinching the championship.
Game Five, if needed, will be on Wednesday in Hong Kong.