Already assured of a spot in the ABL Playoffs, the Saigon Heat showed that they are interested in rising as high as possible before the big dance.
Behind the tremendous performances of their three stars, the Heat were able to withstand the disqualification of Moses Morgan and David Arnold to foul trouble, as they trounced the Westports Malaysia Dragons 115-103 in the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.
Maxie Esho finished with a game high 34 points to pace the Heat. He also chipped in 15 rebounds and 4 steals in a showcase of his athleticism and offensive versatility all over the floor. The highlight of the game came after Esho stole the ball in the final few seconds of the game, and performed a windmill dunk to the delight of the wild crowd in Vietnam.
Flanking Esho was his talented teammates Akeem Scott and Mikey Williams. The two were stellar as well, with Scott finishing with 26 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals. Williams tallied 24 points on 6/10 shooting from the three point area, along with 5 rebounds and 8 assists.
The Dragons were led by Chris Eversley, who had 30 points,8 rebounds and 2 assists in the losing cause.
Despite being eliminated already from Playoff contention, the pesky Dragons were relentless in their pursuit of a win at the hands of the Heat. They trailed for most of the game, until a basket by Bryan Davis with 4:13 to go in the period gave Malaysia their first taste of the lead in the second half.
A swooping layup by Joshua Munzon would give the Dragons a three point lead, 74-71 with 2:01 remaining in the game. However an 8-2 run to finish the quarter gave the Heat a 79-76 lead entering the final quarter.
It was a shootout in the final period, as both the Heat and Dragons attacked relentlessly in the paint and from long distance. However it was the combination of Esho and Scott in the paint, with Williams bombing away from downtown that would prove to be the difference for Saigon.
The Dragons would get to within three points, 99-96 with 2:34 remaining in the game. But a Williams bucket bookended by two Esho jams would put the game out of hand for the visting squad.
Despite playing without Morgan and Arnold, who both fouled out, the Heat were able to hold on thanks to solid contributions from Stefan Nguyen off the bench and red hot shooting from Esho and Williams.
Nguyen finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds and 1 steal in 23 minutes off the bench, while Arnold did his damage before fouling out with 12 points on 4/9 shooting from long distance.
The Heat as a team shot the ball well from the perimeter, as they made 12/35 three point attempts good for 34%. The Dragons on the other hand struggled, shooting only 5/22.
The Dragons play their next game at MABA Stadium on March 21, as they take on Mono Vampire Basketball Club.
The Heat will battle the Singapore Slingers in their regular season finale on March 24. Because of the Slingers’ 18 point victory in their first encounter, the Heat will have to win by 19 points in order to nab the 5th spot in the ABL Playoffs.