What started out as a close match ended up being the most lopsided win in ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) history, as the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions outclassed the Saigon Heat 114-74, Wednesday night at the Southorn Gym in Wan Chai. The Long Lions, who finished the elimination round on top of the standings, take 1-0 lead in the best-of-three semifinals series.
It was a record-setting win for Hong Kong Eastern as they broke the records for most points scored and largest winning margin in ABL’s playoff history. The home team had four players who scored 21 points or more showing just how loaded the team is on offense.
Marcus Elliott got close to a triple-double with 23 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds, even if he played very limited minutes in the fourth quarter as coach Edu Torres emptied out his bench early. Heritage import Tyler Lamb also had 23 points while Josh Boone added 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The AirAsia Player of the Game honor went to Steven Guinchard who scored 22 points in the game anchored on 6-of-6 shooting from the three-point range. He also added 8 rebounds and 2 assists.
“We just stayed together and played as a team. We’ve been practicing very hard,” Guinchard said. “It felt good to be in the zone but I could not have done it without my teammates. We have so many players who can create and so many players who can space the floor. Somebody is going to get open and I’m lucky my shots fell tonight.”
As a team, Hong Kong Eastern shot 53% from the field with a whopping 44% rate from beyond the arc. Saigon only managed to make 42% of their field goal attempts and the 12 misses from the free throw line and 20 turnovers did not help them either.
Saigon started the game wanting to show that they came to Hong Kong for a fight. David Arnold found Horace Nguyen wide open for a corner triple to start the contest. The Long Lions tried to put pressure on the visitors early courtesy of Elliott. However, they fell into team penalty not even halfway through the first quarter allowing the Heat to stick with them.
Elliott capped Hong Kong Eastern’s quarter with a huge put-back slam and a pair of free throws giving him 11 points and settling the score at 24-20 after the first 10 minutes of action.
With Josh Boone sitting out the start of the second due to two fouls, Saigon tied the game at 24-all. However, immediately after Boone’s re-entry, Hong Kong Eastern went on a counter 5-0 blast led by Guinchard and Elliott.
The pressure defense of the Long Lions’ started to get to the Heat midway through the second period as they forced multiple turnovers leading to fast-break baskets. Another Saigon turnover led to a triple from Lamb which gave Hong Kong their first double-digit lead of the game at 40-28 with 2:27 left in the second. They would not look behind from that point on.
Elliott finished the first half with 19 points to lead the Long Lions to a 48-32 advantage. Lenny Daniel tried his best to carry the fight for the Heat with 15 points but he did not enough support from the rest of his team as they fell behind.
It did not take long before the Long Lions blew the game wide open. They started aggressively in the third and quickly went on a 17-3 run capped by a Boone dunk to give them an even 30-point lead 65-35. They exploded with 36 and 30 points in the third and fourth quarters and led by as much as 43 points late in the game.
“We really wanted to make a run at the beginning of the third quarter,” Torres added. “We all knew that it was a must-win ball game for us because we cannot go to Saigon down 0-1.”
“When we led by a lot, I think they gave up a little bit and that’s why we had an unexpected winning margin. But the final score does not show how good a team they are. We’re just ahead 1-0. For me, winning by 1 point and winning by 40 is just the same. We’ll now to travel to Saigon and if we lose there then this 40-point win means nothing. The players know that.”
Saigon was led by Daniel who had 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 assists in the game. His fellow World import Jordan Henriquez, however, managed only 8 points and 11 rebounds. Their Heritage imports did not do too well either as Moses Morgan and David Arnold combined for 18 points on 30% shooting from the field.
“When you don’t show up to play, this happens,” Saigon head coach Tony Gabelotto said after the game. “We never gave ourselves a chance. I thought in the first quarter, we matched their intensity and showed them we belonged here. We took a punch in the second, and it’s not even the biggest we’ve received this season, and we capitulated. We lost trust in each other and that was it.”
Saigon will try to bounce back and extend the series to a do-or-die game as they host the Long Lions for Game 2 on April 8.