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Streak Stoppers: Heat Deliver Gutsy Performance to Stun Long Lions

Records fell Wednesday, March 15 at the Southorn Stadium in Wan Chai as the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions and Saigon Heat engaged in an explosive, highly-competitive, and heart-stopping battle. But in the end, only one thing mattered for the Heat: getting the win.

Again rising from adversity amidst coming off a flat performance in their last game, the resilient group stunned the league-leading Long Lions with a gutsy 96-92 win on the road, notching an all-important seventh victory in the 2016-17 ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) season.

The Heat broke what had been a seemingly unstoppable 10-game winning streak from Hong Kong and improved to 7-10 overall in the team standings, moving a full two wins on top of the fifth-place Kaohsiung Truth while inching closer to the only remaining post-season berth in the league.

“Our goal is to win one more game. We want to make it there (playoffs) first,” Heat head coach Tony Garbelotto said. “At this moment, our sole goal is to secure one more win for us to be in the playoffs.”

Center Jordan Henriquez capitalized on the absence of Josh Boone (back spasms), wounding up with an ABL career-high of 30 points on an efficient 13-of-17 clip. He added 17 rebounds and 2 blocks. Lenny Daniel provided the ample help, finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks.

“We knew when we lost to Malaysia at home we had to play the best team in the league. That’s what we took care of tonight,” Henriquez. “We were just prepared for whatever.”

In spite of Boone not suiting up, the Heat still had to overcome an extraordinarily-talented Hong Kong crew.

The home side hardly felt Boone’s absence early, as they knocked down two consecutive threes, which also helped them break the ABL record for most three-pointers made in a season.

The Heat pounded the ball from the inside as expected, leading by as much as 42-34 in the second quarter but their foes continued to hit outside shots.

The Long Lions took with them a 41-37 halftime edge with Marcus Elliott’s 17 first half points leading the way. Fong Shing Yee was also a bright spot, stepping up in the absence of Boone as he scored 11 points in the first two quarters.

“We had a lot of easy baskets obviously but this team was still shooting the lights out from the three-point line. It makes it even harder for them to guard because you have to guard four shooters minimum,” Garbelotto said.

Tyler Lamb added on to the lead when he scored five straight points which made it 65-60 for Hong Kong in the third quarter. The Heat would respond with a 9-0 run capped by free throws from Stefan Nguyen which handed the lead back to Saigon.

Later in the final period, the Long Lions’ fullcourt press enabled them to draw turnovers from the Heat which they converted into easy points. A slam by Elliott followed by a jumper made it 84-79 as it appeared Hong Kong had the victory in the bag with just over minutes left.

But the Heat kept fighting back, taking the lead anew after racking up six consecutive markers. Teams would trade scores after that point, with David Arnold’s two charities giving Saigon a 93-92 edge with only 1:19 left.

Arnold nearly paid for it though in the next possession when he turned it over after rushing to get a shot up. Luckily, the Heat got two pivotal defensive stops under the last minute, including one where Moses Morgan swatted away Lamb’s jumper with the shot clock winding down for the Long Lions.

“We just had to stay the course, stay together, keep it going in the fourth and hope they miss the shots they were making in the first half,” Arnold said.

The Long Lions would not anymore after that point, as the Heat escaped with another character-building victory.

“We came out, we played hard. We knew the position we were in. We knew each game we just should try to get a win. Our coaches prepared us for that mentally going to Hong Kong, and now we just have to prepare for that again going into Singapore,” Henriquez said.

The Heat were able to match the Long Lions’ firepower with one of their best offensive performances in the season. They shot 55% overall from the floor, dished out 17 assists, and took a whopping 48-20 lead in inside points, making a staggering 80% of their attempts inside the paint.

The Vietnamese side’s aggressiveness also led to 35 free throw attempts, 21 more than Hong Kong. The Heat also controlled the rebounding story, 43-36.

Morgan added 18 points including three from downtown and Arnold scored 13 markers, 11 coming in the second half which kept his squad in the game.

Elliott eclipsed his previous ABL high of 33 as he finished with 35 points, 7 boards, and 7 dimes. Lamb added 24 points while Fong tallied 17 points and 11 rebounds, his third double-double of the season.

Both teams will be on the road on Sunday, March 19. The Long Lions will travel to the Philippines to face Alab Pilipinas at the USEP Gym in Davao City while the Heat shall face the Singapore Slingers at the OCBC Arena as they attempt to book their ticket to the ABL playoffs.