Basketball: Slingers falter in Game 3 to leave ABL title hopes hanging

Singapore Slingers’ centre Justin Howard finished with a 31-point, 23-rebound double-double in Game 3 of the ABL finals. (Photo: Yahoo Newsroom)

The Singapore Slingers squandered the opportunity to wrap up the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) finals on home court.

Hopes of winning their first ABL title hang by a thin thread after a 72-76 defeat to the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions in Game 3 on Friday (21 April) at the OCBC Arena. 

Once again, poor shooting and turnovers were the main factors in the loss. The Slingers made just two of their 15 attempts from behind the arc and committed 21 turnovers altogether.

The result left Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang exasperated. Neo stressed the need to take care of the ball prior to Game 3.

“Obviously, you can tell we didn’t take care of the ball,” Neo said after the game.

“We made that one costly turnover [in the fourth quarter] that killed us. Anything more than 12 (turnovers), it affect your games and today, our shooting percentage from the three is 13 per cent, so that’s why we struggled.”

Despite those numbers, they were hardly outplayed by the Long Lions. Behind a focussed defence, they held Marcus Elliot to just 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Inspired performances from Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander helped to keep the Slingers close in what was a back-and-forth game.

Every time the Long Lions threatened to pull away, the Slingers would come roaring back. In the fourth quarter, they came back from five points down to lead 69-65 with less than two minutes to go, and kept the Long Lions scoreless for over five minutes.

A clutch three-pointer from Elliott and a put-back layup from Long Lions captain Fong Shing Yee, put the visitors ahead by one with 52.1 seconds to play, before Alexander split his free throws in the following possession to tie the game at 70 apiece.

With 40 seconds left, a mistake from Josh Urbiztondo led to two free-throws for the Long Lions, which Chan Siu Wing converted. Howard then turned over the ball with 23 seconds left, and the Slingers never recovered.

Point guard Wong Wei Long struggled in Game 3, making only one of his five shot attempts, finishing with only three points. (Photo: Yahoo Newsroom)

The Hong Kong team now leads the series 2-1, one win away from lifting the ABL title.

“It is what it is,” Neo said. “We need to get ourselves to really come back in Game 4 and of course, get a win to go to Hong Kong again. We didn’t want that, but we lost this game and that affects us.”

Locals need to step up

Neo also stressed the need for the local players to step up. So far, the team has been relying solely on Americans Howard and Alexander in the finals. Howard finished Game 3 with 31 points and 23 rebounds, while Alexander put up 23 points, 13 assists and 7 rebounds.

Both shot 66.7 per cent from the field. In contrast, the rest of the team shot just 21 per cent. Leon Kwek scored just seven points from 11 attempts, while point guards Wong Wei Long and Urbiztondo had just one basket each.

Another glaring stat is that both Wong and Urbiztondo had no assists and three combined turnovers. 

“Our local boys never really step up to help the team,” Neo admitted.

“I need both of them (Wong and Urbiztondo) to really get more confident to bring the ball up and organise the offence. If I need to get X (Alexander) to do that, then he’s got too many tasks to do and that affects us the whole time,” he said. 

Neo conceded that with just one practice before Game 4, there isn’t a lot the Slingers can do. However, he pointed out that it’s all about “who wants it more” on Sunday.

The Singapore Slingers taken on the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions at the OCBC Arena on 23 April (Sunday) at 4pm. Tickets are available here.