SINGAPORE — Nine seasons and three Finals on, and still the Singapore Slingers have to continue their agonising wait for their first Asean Basketball League (ABL) title.
The losses just get crueler. On their home court at OCBC Arena, in front of a sellout 3,000-strong crowd, in a winner-takes-all Game Five, the Slingers let a 10-point lead slip away in the final minutes as they succumbed 81-84 against the CSL Knights Indonesia on Wednesday (15 May).
As the Knights’ players celebrated wildly, hardly believing they had managed to turn the tables amid noisy and hostile surroundings, the Slingers slumped disconsolately on the court and outside their dressing room, wondering what they have to do to taste success in the league.
They wasted great individual performances by Xavier Alexander (23 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), Jerran Young (20 points, nine rebounds) and Delvin Goh (19 points, 11 rebounds).
A red-eyed head coach Neo Beng Siang told Yahoo News Singapore, “I blame myself for not being able to take the team over the line.
"We had a 10-point lead with nine minutes to go, it was money in the pocket, and we gave them the chance to come back. We are really disappointed because we led for most of the game, but gave up an open three-pointer at the crucial moment.
“I'm proud of everyone's contribution, from the players to the fans."
Turning points in 4th quarter
Quite how the Slingers could not close out a match in which they led 70-60 in the final quarter will haunt the players for a long time. The crucial turning point came when co-captain Larry Liew fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.
Liew had been effectively guarding the Knights’ American point guard Douglas Herring, and his departure weakened the Slingers’ sturdy defence enough for the Knights to mount a final charge to reduce the deficit.
They drew level at 79-79 with 1min 15sec left after a three-pointer by Maxie Esho. Then came the “dagger” – the shot that silenced the crowd and caused Neo to throw his tactics board in disgust.
Of all players, it was former Slinger Wong Wei Long who delivered that killer blow, draining a three-pointer for an 82-79 lead with 50 seconds left on the clock.
The shell-shocked Slingers took a time-out, wondering how they managed to leave Wong, a well-known sharpshooter, wide open in such a crucial moment.
“We played well for 38-and-a-half minutes, and we threw it all away with a lack of communication in defence in the last one-and-a-half minutes,” lamented Neo.
Alexander hit a quick lay-up, but centre John Fields missed a close-range put-back that would have given the Slingers a one-point lead. Herring then made two free throws to seal victory and the Knights’ first ABL title.
Hard work pays off for Knights
Knights’ coach Brian Rowsom was effusive in his praise of his players. He said, “We played good defence in the final minutes, but the players believed in themselves and worked so hard. Now they can enjoy their success with all their fans in Indonesia.”
Wong was elated to be the match-winner in front of his supportive family and friends, but saved some words of sympathy for his former teammates, “I feel sorry for my old team Slingers, they worked so hard to get to three Finals in four seasons.
“It was really neck-and-neck, and sometimes you need a bit of luck to win the championship."
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