After Heartbreaking Finals Defeat, Slingers Try to Carry On

What the Singapore Slingers felt last Sunday after their ASEAN Basketball League season ended inside the OCBC Arena was all too familiar – the pain, the heartache, the overwhelming sense of loss.

It was a feeling that the Slingers experienced exactly one season ago when they lost the ABL title in a grueling five-game series against the Westports Malaysia Dragons. After that defeat, they never imagined they would have that same feeling ever again. They vowed to come back stronger the following season. They had unfinished business.

And yet, last Sunday, after their seventh season in the ABL, the Slingers would unfortunately have to deal with the painful stain of defeat once again. For the second year, they lost in the Finals, this time against ABL newcomers, the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions.

“At the end of the day, there’s always one winner. Nobody’s gonna remember second. Once again, we fell short,” forward Leon Kwek said, moments after Singapore’s gut-wrenching loss. “That’s something we’ll look at and move on. What’s done is done. We did what we could.”

When the final buzzer sounded inside the OCBC Arena in Singapore, the crowd was shocked in disbelief. Silence enveloped the stadium. As the Long Lions jumped in jubilation, most of the Slingers could only stand crestfallen in the middle of the court. Justin Howard collapsed underneath the basket as tears poured out of his eyes.

The Slingers expected a lot from themselves coming into the 2016-2017 season of the ABL. Last year, they were so close in winning their first title. They had a taste of success and hungered for more.

“We had the core of our team back so we knew we would be a contender,” said a dejected Howard. “We came here. We just couldn’t finish the job.”

The nucleus of the Slingers was indeed well-intact heading into this season. World imports Howard and Xavier Alexander returned. Locals Kwek, Wong Wei Long, Ng Han Bin, and Delvin Goh all worked hard over the summer to improve their game. Their determination and renewed focus gave them a hot start at the beginning of the year. They started out winning eight of their first 10 games, and despite a few players nursing injuries, they finished the regular season with a 13-7 record.

In the Finals, the Slingers were even able to control Game 1, getting the tough road win in Hong Kong. They were seeking redemption from last year’s loss and were hell-bent in not repeating the same mistakes from before.

Unfortunately, the number one ranked Long Lions rediscovered their game just in the nick of time. Hong Kong went on to win the next three games and close out the series on the road.

And the Slingers, despite all their preparations heading into the year, could only look back and reflect on what could have been. Just like in Malaysia a season ago, they took the loss painfully as any team would.

“It’s the second season where we’ve come this far and it’s a pity we didn’t get the trophy,” Slingers veteran Wei Long shared.

“The last three games could have went either way,” Heritage import Josh Urbiztondo thought. “To win a championship, you’ve got to win the breaks of the game, the ball has to go your way – just the little things.”

Some of them, even took the loss personally.

“I just didn’t show up. It’s on me,” Kwek said, holding back tears. “The field goal shooting, the turnovers. I came into this game 5-for-31 – that says it all.”

Kwek had the chance to tie the game in double overtime when he got the ball with 3.7 seconds left on the clock. Kwek received the pass near the baseline, slipped past one defender, rose up and met the outstretched arms of the Long Lions, got the shot off, but unfortunately missed.

Now, the Slingers are met with even a greater challenge ahead of them. Last year, they took the loss as a learning experience as they vowed to return to the Finals. After Sunday’s loss, they are tasked to once again overcome the sting of defeat no matter how painful and come back even stronger.

Kwek wiped the tears away from his eyes as fans, disappointed as they were, came and said they were thankful for him and the entire Slingers team.

“If we quit, then we’ll fall all the way back to where we were a few years back,” the 21-year-old said bravely. “What we need to do is to find ourselves again. Put the work again, even more work this time because we once again fell short. That means what we did this season is not enough.”

“I think we all did our best. We live with no regret. We really played our hearts out there. We’re just gotta fight harder next year,” Wei Long added.

A second straight Finals defeat is bitter pill to swallow. The Slingers will once again go back to the drawing board, build on what they have, and look ahead into the future.

“The team has grown well. They’ve come a long way in two years but they’ve also got a long way to go to come close two times,” Howard assessed.

“I’m proud of the boys, they fought all the way,” Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said. “It’s the second year we missed the championship so hopefully we can get ourselves stronger for next season and see how it goes.”

The feeling of loss and disappointed filled the air of the OCBC Arena last Sunday. However, there was one other emotion that was evident amid the tears and agony. The Slingers, as well as their fans, clung to one thing: hope.

“Like we did last year, we just gotta keep coming back, gonna keep going,” Kwek said. “Like what MJ [Slingers assistant coach Michael Johnson] said, when you hit a rock, you just gotta find a way to go over it.”