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Heat Book Final Playoff Ticket, Defeat Slingers On The Road

The cast for the Playoffs is now complete, and a new champion will be crowned this season in the ASEAN Basketball League.

Playing against a Singapore Slingers team without World Import Xavier Alexander, the Saigon Heat broke upon a close game in the fourth quarter to win, 88-71 inside the OCBC Arena.

The Heat’s victory also eliminated the defending champions Westports Malaysia Dragons from Playoff contention, despite the Dragon’s victory over the Kaohsiung Truth on Saturday.

“I’m very proud,” Heat Head Coach Tony Garbelotto bared. “We clinched it with two games to go.”

According to Slingers Head Coach Neo Beng Siang, the decision was made after Alexander suffered an injury in their previous game.

“He got injured last game against Kaohsiung,” Neo shared. “It’s definitely a precaution, because the doctor needed rest for two weeks. After two weeks, he should be a 100% good to go.”

According to Neo, the decision to rest Alexander was also made because the Slingers at 9-9 were already locked in at 2nd place regardless of the situation.

“We discussed that whether we win or lose two games, we have nowhere to go,” Neo said. “We’re not going to jump to the first or fall to three. So we’ll rest him, and get him more time moving forward to the Playoffs.”

Despite Alexander’s absence, the Heat would still need to take care of business on their end. And the Slingers definitely didn’t make it easy for them.

In the first quarter, the Slingers relied on great ball moment to free up their guards for good looks at the basket. Heritage Import Josh Urbiztondo was the catalyst for the Slingers, racking up seven points in the period.

But the Heat would eventually find their groove on offense. Lenny Daniel and Moses Morgan spearheaded Saigon’s strong push in the final few minutes of the quarter, helping turn a 8-point deficit into a 23-21 lead at the end of the first period.

Momentum in the second canto swung wildly, as both the Heat and Slingers were able to make their own runs on offense. But Singapore’s Leon Kwek would find his groove, scoring on midrange jumpers to give the Slingers some rhythm. Kwek finished with 10 points, although he was saddled with three personal fouls. The Slingers would take a four point lead, 38-34 into the half.

The Heat adjusted after the break, as they exploited their size advantage in the frontcourt, as they looked for Lenny Daniel in the post against Delvin Goh. Saigon tied the game at 45 with 5:20 to go in the quarter.

Saigon and Singapore would exchange leads once again, as Daniel and Howard carried their respective teams on their shoulders. However Singapore would get the final say in the quarter, via an Urbiztondo jumper at the buzzer. Slingers would grab the lead, 58-56 at the end of the third.

However the Heat would pull ahead in the fourth quarter, as the Slingers had no one to match Daniel’s athleticism without Alexander on the floor. Saigon would go on an 8-0 run to, to go up 68-60 with 6:12 to go.

The Slingers’ only field goal came at the 9:07 mark, with free throws from Howard and Delvin Goh the only points up until a Howard basket at the 3:48 mark of the game. On the other side, the Heat kept rolling, with David Arnold and Moses Morgan conspiring to go up by as many as 13, 75-62.

The scoring drought would prove to be enough for the Heat to dispose of the Slingers, their third straight victory of the season.

Heat Center Jordan Henriquez paced the Heat with 20 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks. He also held his own against Singapore’s Howard, who had 22 points on 9/23 field goals.

However Howard did achieve personal milestones in the game. He surpassed 1000 career rebounds in the ballgame, and also leapfrogged Chris Charles in total overall points in ABL history. Howard is now 3rd all time, with 1,361 points to his name.

Leon Kwek and Wong Wei Long chipped in 14 points each in the losing effort.

“It was a huge victory,” Heat Heritage Import Moses Morgan said. “We knew they were going to come out and play well, with or without Xavier. Their locals stepped up, they made shots.“

“But we were able to pull away,” Morgan said proudly. “We got the ball inside to Jordan and Lenny, and they did what they were supposed to do inside. As a collective team, it was big for us.”

The past two victories of Saigon have come against a Hong Kong side without Josh Boone, and the Slingers sans Alexander. But according to Coach Garbelotto, the caliber of teams they defeated, with or without imports, should not be understated.

“These are not the low level teams,” Garbelotto said. “These are the top two teams who have history, very good structure and good coaching. These are not teams that are turning up to lie down. And that’s why I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

The Heat will celebrated their formal entry into the Playoffs, but they know the work isn’t done, especially with two games remaining on their calendar.

“We’re pretty happy, but we’re not satisfied,” Jordan Henriquez shared. “We have to go to Hong Kong tomorrow and take care of business on Wednesday.”