In the presence of a sell-out OCBC Arena crowd, the Singapore Slingers were pressured to make their fans' money worth.
And they did just that.
Reined by an all-around game by Xavier Alexander, the second-seeded Slingers defeated Alab Pilipinas 77-67 to stamp their first win in game one of the best-of-three ASEAN Basketball League semi-final.
Xavier Alexander of the Singapore Slingers shoots the ball against Alab Pilipinas during game one of the ASEAN Basketball League semi-final at the OCBC. Photo: Sport Singapore
Alexander had 24 points, nine boards and seven dimes, complete with three steals and a block. Justin Howard (17 points, 12 rebounds), Delvin Goh (12 points) and Wong Wei Long (11 points) also finished in double figures to help Singapore move one step closer to their second straight finals appearance.
While the Singaporean side had a lackluster finish to the regular season, their gameplay today quelled all worries for head coach Neo Beng Siang.
"I’m pretty happy that they came out with the right attitude," said Neo, commenting on his charges' aggression.
“I have always emphasised the importance of the playoffs and that there is no turning back, because if we lose, we go home.
Hezy Acuna of Alab Pilipinas passes the ball while under intense pressure from Mitchell Folkoff of the Singapore Slingers. Photo: Sport Singapore
“So coming out with good energy and effort is great and I hope that they can keep it up to the end and stay strong with the current winning mentality.”
For the Filipinos, experiencing the brunt of questionable umpiring was least of their troubles. The possibility of losing role players Bobby Ray Parks and Lawrence Domingo in game two compounded their distress. Parks and Domingo both exited the game midway after sustaining an ankle and neck injury respectively.
For one, Alab had something to be happy about. The eleventh-hour addition of rising star Kiefer Ravena was one that they did not regret.
Making his return to court fresh off recovering from injury, the young guard made his impact felt immediately. From his offensive wizardry to taking over the reins in the absence of Parks and Domingo, nothing daunted the 23-year-old, giving his teammates a spark to rely on for game two.
Game action aside, the Slingers had on alternate jerseys that would be auctioned at the end of the game, with proceeds going to SportCares Foundation
, the charity arm of Sport Singapore. The Singaporeans also hosted a mini showcase by participants of the ActiveSG Basketball Academy
Participants of ActiveSG Basketball Academy in action during a mini showcase. Photo: Sport Singapore
“SportCares does a lot of great work in the community for the at-risk kids and hopefully we have a lot of people come on board the auction and raise a lot of money for SportCares,” commented Slingers general manager and assistant head coach Michael Johnson on the partnership with SportCares Foundation.
Johnson also expressed his support for the ActiveSG Basketball Academy
, sending some members of the Slingers to facilitate the programme as coaches.
“We’re really looking to get more kids into the game from the grassroots level,” said Johnson.
“The kids are really green at the moment and they’re just starting, but we think that there’s a long term future and it’s great for them to get an opportunity today in front of the huge crowd.
“Hopefully these sort of things help the young kids pick up a basketball and play and for us, it’s about promoting the sport and giving back to the community in the time that we’re here.
“I think tonight was a great night for basketball.”
Game two of the semi-final will be played in the Philippines on Friday, April 7.