Hong Kong Eastern is one win away from giving San Miguel Alab Pilipinas a dose of their own medicine. Last season, the latter was the defending champion but they were knocked out by the former in two games even though they had home-court advantage.
After their big win in Cebu for Game 1, Hong Kong Eastern is eager to repay the favor.
Alab has their back against the wall now as they’ve suddenly turned cold starting at the tail end of the elimination round. Their lineup was ravaged with multiple injuries but they have yet to regain their old fiery form after getting many of their players back from the injured list. It was only their second loss in the Philippines and now they’d have to win one on the road, something that they were not exceptionally good in the elimination round.
It was a big gamble for them not to have a guy like Sam Deguara patrolling the paint against PJ Ramos but it paid off with a big win. Although they were bullied on the inside, Hong Kong Eastern shot much better from the three-point range and more importantly outscored the usually reliable bench of Alab to take Game 1.
O’Darien Bassett was the biggest factor in the game for Hong Kong Eastern as his scoring and playmaking kept his team in the game even if Alab tried to break the game wide open multiple times. With Marcus Elliott struggling from the field, it was up to Bassett to power their offense and that’s exactly what he did.
Another big lift for Hong Kong Eastern was the performance of Lau Tsz Lai off the bench. Usually, they rely in Lee Ki or Chan Siu Wing to provide them with the local scoring punch but it was Lau who ht the biggest shot of the game with a late triple to take the lead for good. He was oozing with confidence after a big shooting performance in their final elimination round game against the Wolf Warriors and he kept his fiery form in Game 1.
The key for Alab in the game should have been their strength inside. With only one legitimate big man for Hong Kong Eastern, Ramos and Balkman should have dominated. Instead, Mike Holyfield did a stellar job in holding down the fort for his squad as he finished only three-point shy of Ramos’ output while producing more than double the rebounding numbers.
Balkman was his usual steady self in Game 1 as he filled up the stat sheet again with an all-around game. His defender most of the contest was the much smaller Elliott which means he’ll have to produce even better numbers in their next meeting.
Alab will also need to get more their locals as only two of them who scored in double digits in Ray Parks and Caelan Tiongson. It’s either Parks becomes more aggressive in looking for his own shot and locate his bigs off penetrations of have their bench players shoot better from the outside.
Will the defending champion be unceremoniously booted out by Hong Kong Eastern or can they stay alive to take the series back home?