KUALA LUMPUR — In what turned out to be a game of runs, Westports Malaysia’s prolonged scoreless stretch in the 4th quarter proved to be fatal.
The Dragons saw their homecourt advantage go to waste after the Singapore Slingers took Game 1 of the ASEAN Basketball League Finals with a thrilling 84-80 win Friday night at the MABA Stadium here.
Anchored on Matthew Wright’s 20-point explosion in the opening half, the hosts controlled much of the game, but Singapore locked down on defense in the last 20 minutes to erect a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 series.
“We did a good job on the defensive end,” said Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang, singling out Kris Rosales for limiting the sharpshooting Wright to a measly 2-point output in the last 2 quarters.
“Kris did a good job on Wright. We really shut him down in the 2nd half. I’m pretty proud of him,” he added.
Malaysia started fluidly, with Wright opening the match with a 4-point play and helping his team build a 19-8 lead early.
But the Dragons were unable to really pull away and Singapore actually took the driver’s seat early in the 2nd period at 26-25.
Behind the burly Reggie Johnson, Malaysia went on a 24-12 run capped by a buzzer-beating triple by Shee Fai Loh to hold a 49-38 lead at the break.
Already in foul trouble in the 1st half, the Dragons’ other American import, Calvin Godfrey, put his team in peril once more, committing his 4th foul with more than 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
The home team was up, 61-53, when Godfrey was pulled out and the Slingers quickly took advantage.
Singapore reinforcements Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander took turns in pummelling Malaysia’s defense, leading an 11-3 exchange that finally tied the game at 64-all with under a minute remaining in the period.
Ma Chee Kheun stemmed the tide with another buzzer-beater for the Dragons, but by then, momentum was on the Slingers’ side.
After Alexander knotted the count at 66-all, Jason Brickman responded with a triple to put Malaysia back on top, 69-66, with 8:45 left.
Alexander and sniper Wu Qingde conspired in a 10-0 blitz, giving the Slingers a 77-69 advantage as the clock ticked down to 5 minutes.
Johnson and Godfrey cut it to 79-77 at the 1-minute mark before Rosales gave Singapore breathing room with a midrange j with 44.2 seconds left.
Godfrey drilled a three to hand the Dragons one last hope, but Alexander found a wide-open Wu in the corner for a final-nail-in-the-coffin triple with 12.9 seconds remaining.
Malaysia’s imports were unable to buy a basket in their ensuing possession as time expired.
Alexander turned in a monster line with 27 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks while Howard overcame foul trouble to finish with 24 points and 11 boards.
On the other hand, Johnson and Godfrey combined for 30 points and 25 rebounds, but made just 11 of 29 attempts from the field and just 7 of 14 free-throws. — By Josiah Albelda/Photo by Kuk Thew