ABL: Slingers win thriller to keep hopes alive

The Singapore Slingers edged out the Saigon Heat 63-62 in a thrilling match that kept their slim play-off hopes alive on Thursday.

Rashad Jones-Jennings
Kelvin Yap

By Kelvin Yap

With a tough double header against the Indonesia Warriors coming up, the Slingers recorded a much-needed win over the Heat on Thursday evening to keep their hopes of ousting the Sports Rev Thailand Slammers for the fourth and final play-off spot in the ASEAN Basketball League alive. 

It was a thrilling encounter at the Tan Binh Arena between the two bottom sides of the ASEAN Basketball League with the momentum swinging between each side throughout the match - fittingly, the result was decided in the final seconds of the game when Phillip Morrison sunk a free throw to give his side the one-point victory.

Jai Reyes was the key man for the Heat with 26 points to top the game's scoring chart, sinking 45% of his field goals while pulling the strings in offense. David Palmer helped under the basket with 17 rebounds and Justin Howard contributed with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

However, it wasn't enough as Slingers' center Rashad Jones-Jennings turned up with a mammoth 21 rebounds and 17 points, and he was assisted by Phillip Morrison, who had an excellent game orchestrating their attack while grabbing 20 points in the process.

The game started on a bright note for the Slingers and they managed to open up a 16-9 lead halfway through the period shooting 64% from the field, but it their shooting soon faded as they found only one more basket for the rest of the quarter.

It was only due to the Heat's profligacy with eight turnovers that the Slingers went into the first break on top at 18-17.

The rhythm of the game was firmly in the home side's favour with the fervent crowd cheering them on.

Heat coach Jason Rabeddeaux's strategy of using big men David Palmer and Justin Howard on the outside as screens for Reyes was working like a charm - the diminutive guard's hot hand carried his team throughout as he sunk baskets from everywhere in the Slingers' half of the court.

The Slingers were not helped by the fact that Rashaad Singleton and Jones-Jennings were having a horrible game in terms of points - both of them were three from 11 after the first half and were guilty of wasting the bulk of their side's chances as the team went into half time trailing 34-30 after shooting 30% from the field.

The extended break appeared to have a positive effect on the Slingers as they responded to Reyes' three-pointer from the opening play of the half by going on a nine-point run. 

However, the Singapore-based side again showed their ability to switch off momentarily and they promptly returned the momentum of the game to the Heat with sloppy shooting.

Reyes shone in this period and handed his side an 11 point lead at 54-43 a minute into the final quarter, prompting a Slingers time-out that changed the game.

Desmond Oh, who was getting little joy off marking Reyes, was replaced by Mitchell Folkoff and the switch worked a charm as they finally managed to stop the red-hot guard from slicing their defence open like butter.

Morrison upped his game and cut the lead to just six points within seconds with a smart drive to the basket for a lay-up before setting Junjun Cabatu up for a three-pointer before sinking his own from beyond the arc to pull the score level at 54-54.

Both sides are now going for the basket at every single opening. With many missed shots, it was Jones-Jennings who shone with his rebounding ability to recycle the ball and he showed excellent post-up play as well to hook a ball in to give his side a 60-54 lead.

A timeout by coach Rabeddeaux had the Heat fired up again and they managed to comeback to hold the game at 62-62 Howard finished off Reyes' move and set up a thrilling finale with 18 seconds left.

The Slingers had a great chance to seal the game when Singleton was then fouled, but he failed to convert both free throws at the line with the vociferous home crowd piling the pressure on.

Just as the game looked like it was set for overtime, Morrison was fouled by Reyes in the passing lane and had two free throws to keep his side's play-off hopes alive. He sunk the first throw before intentionally missed the second one to wind the clock down for the Slingers to claim the crucial win.

The Slingers are now level with the Dragons in the ABL table and will be in action again on Sunday when they host the Westports Malaysia Dragons at the Singapore Indoor Stadium while the Heat will play the Indonesia Warriors next Sunday in Jakarta.

Quarter scoring: Q1(17-18) Q2(17-12) Q3(15-13) Q4(13-20)

Full-Time: Heat 62-63 Slingers 

Heat: Reyes- 26pts; Howard - 14pts, 12 reb; Palmer 9pts, 17reb.

Slingers: Morrison- 20pts; Jones-Jennings 17pts, 2 reb; Singleton - 14pts, 11reb.

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