Singapore Slingers 77
CLS Knights Indonesia 57
(Best-of-five series: 1-1)
After a meek surrender to the CLS Knights Indonesia in Game 1 of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals, the Singapore Slingers returned to the OCBC Arena yesterday as different beasts.
They were hungrier, faster and sharper to rout the visitors 77-57 in Game 2 to level their best-of-five Finals series at 1-1.
In a sign of how delicately balanced the series is, the Slingers restricted the Knights to their lowest-scoring game of the season after suffering their biggest loss last Friday.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "We analysed what went wrong and adjusted our defence and mixed it up with pressing, zonal and man-to-man, which they could not cope with.
"It was a fantastic performance from the entire team."
Even without starting American point guard Jerran Young for large parts of the match, the Slingers played great defence and made their shots count to storm to a 21-9 lead in the first quarter.
The home side were paced by ABL World Import Most Valuable Player Xavier Alexander's 16 points and Defensive Player of the Year John Fields' 15 points, while Young also shrugged off a hamstring niggle to claim 14 points.
A DIFFERENT STRATEGY
We analysed what went wrong and adjusted our defence and mixed it up with pressing, zonal and man-to-man, which they could not cope with.
NEO BENG SIANG, Singapore Slingers coach, on his team's improvement.
Alexander said: "We were asleep for Game 1 and now we are awake. The World Import MVP means everything to me and the fans who wear my No. 15 jersey.
"After an embarrassing Game 1, we showed what Slingers basketball is all about today.
"But the individual award means nothing without the greater goal of winning the championship."
The local players, led by Ng Han Bin (14 points) and Desmond Oh (nine), also stepped up big time as they combined for 32 points with some hot shooting from range.
Neo said: "Jerran was at best 60 per cent fit and was advised to play only one quarter, so we played Larry (Liew). He did a good job defending (Knights import) Doug Herring Jr. They trusted one another and the locals made a big step up."
Ng revealed that Neo had asked the local players to go for Saturday's training session an hour earlier for extra shooting practice, which paid off as they converted 12 out of 12 field-goal attempts.
He said: "Personally, I have been practising and making more than 4,000 shots in the long break of more than two weeks between the semi-finals and Finals, and it was bound to pay off some time.
"The coaches' initiative after Game 1 also meant a lot to us and helped us.
"Game 1 showed us we have to focus and Game 2 showed we have to trust our coach and system."
The key to the convincing win was solid defence, as they restricted the Knights' dangermen Maxie Esho and Darryl Watkins to a combined 20 points after they had top-scored with 24 and 23 points in the 86-67 Game 1 win.
The Slingers then ended the game with an all-local quintet for the last 48 seconds.
The Knights still have home-court advantage as they host Games 3 and 4 in Surabaya on Wednesday and Saturday and coach Brian Rowson demanded improvement from his charges.
"I hope we can get the job done back home, but we have to play much better than this," he said.
Neo hopes that the Slingers can build on their winning momentum.
He said: "We have beaten them there before. If we continue playing like this, we are confident of getting at least one win there."
A May 15 decider, if needed, will be at the OCBC Arena.