With hopes of extending their semifinal series against the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions to a decider, the Saigon Heat gave it everything they could in Game 2 on Saturday, April 8, even after they had their life sucked out of them after a deflating Game 1 loss.
But in the end, the Long Lions’ talent outclassed the resilient Heat in Game 2, 86-79 at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City to sweep the series and march to the championship round of the 2016-17 ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) season.
After trailing by as much as eight points, the Long Lions flipped the switch in the second half, riding on the efforts of Tyler Lamb and Josh Boone.
Lamb poured nine of his 26 points (50 FG%) as the Long Lions took control. Boone tallied 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks, helping his team dominate the interior. Marcus Elliott, despite shooting only 5-of-19 from the field, still finished with 18 points, 7 boards, and 6 dimes.
“It’s a super tough game. We flew in this morning. It was tough. Everything came from our defense. They outscored us at the halftime, but we came back with the right attitude and effort. Luckily, some shots fell and we took a lead that was enough,” Long Lions head coach Edu Torres said.
Saigon wisely let Hong Kong play to the Heat’s pace early, being deliberate and playing solid defense to not let the visitors gain rhythm. Moses Morgan carried the fight from the start, being more locked in on offense as he drained long range shot after long range shot.
The Heat then took advantage of the time Lamb and Elliott were seated on the bench in the second quarter, building as high as an eight-point lead at 36-28 after David Arnold racked up back to back triples.
The Long Lions were able to respond immediately; after sending the starters back on the floor, Hong Kong tied the game at 41 apiece. Later, they opened the third frame with an 8-0 run to take the lead.
The top-seeded side tightened up defensively too, holding the Heat down to just a single field goal for a span of seven minutes. Not long after, the game began to slip away, with the Heat’s indecisiveness and turnovers leading to more breaks for Hong Kong.
“We just locked in, gave ourselves a little pep talk and that’s what all it took,” Elliott said.
The Long Lions maintained a double-digit cushion in the final quarter until the Heat tried to pull off one last try to save their season. Down by nine, 81-72 with only 2:20 remaining, Arnold hit a three while Jordan Henriquez scored inside to cut the gap down to just 81-78.
The Heat had a golden opportunity to score as Henriquez deflected a pass in the next possession, but Arnold’s pass to Lenny Daniel in the ensuing play went too high.
Elliott made Saigon pay on the other end after that miscue, converting on a driving lay-up which pushed Hong Kong to safety.
“We just had to weather the storm. Every team is going to have spurts to take the momentum but you can’t take on that mentally, just have to weather it,” Elliott said.
Daniel wrapped up his season top-scoring for the Heat with 22 points (9-of-13 FG). He added 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Arnold himself played the game of his life in spite of a loss, contributing 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 50% shooting from deep. Morgan had 17 points of his own including five triples.
For the third straight year, the Heat exit the playoffs unable to book a win.
“They showed the difference between a winning team and a team that’s trying to win. They made all the right plays at the right time and we are still too young. There were times we could have pulled closer but we let it slip away from us,” Daniel said.
The Long Lions will host the first two games of the best-of-five ABL Finals against the Singapore Slingers beginning on Saturday, April 15.