It has a been a difficult start to the season for the Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Team, the defending champions of the ASEAN Basketball League. They have been on the road for their first two games, and both have been nail-biting wins that came down to dramatic potential game-tying shots by their opponent that didn’t find the mark.
In their first win of the season, they had to hold their breath as a near half court heave from Tanduay Alab Pilipinas’ Josh Urbiztondo almost went in before rimming out. And most recently, in the final .5 second of regulation, Frederick Lish almost hit a turnaround triple that would have won the game for the CLS Knights Surabaya. Instead, Hong Kong would hold on and carve out a 87-78 overtime win against the Knights.
It has been a grind for Hong Kong to start the season. Yet if you ask any player on the team, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“To this moment, I gotta say it’s huge,” Edu Torres said of the team’s ability to win on the road against tough competition. “These were two very dangerous games because since we started our preseason on October 1, we‘ve only played two [actual] games.
“The first game we played was two weeks ago,” Torres said in referencing the win against Tanduay Alab Pilipinas. “We played these two games without any game rhythm, without even being involved in the competition. So I knew it was going to be tough. We gotta keep moving forward.”
A change in personnel has forced Hong Kong Eastern to have to adjust on the fly. Key players like Steven Guinchard, Josh Boone and even Fong Shing Yee from last year’s championship squad are no longer on the roster. Adding on to the pain is the preseason injury to key guard, Chan Siu Wing, who is expected to be out for the season. Those that remain in the reigning World Import and Heritage Import Marcus Elliott and Tyler Lamb are the clear-cut leaders on this squad. And they will tasked for deliver in every game of Hong Kong.
But just because those two are special talents, it doesn’t mean that the entire team revolves around this duo. Far from it. What made Hong Kong so dangerous last season was how the team found ways to battle back from deficits, and orchestrate major comebacks. They did this time and time again in their run to the championship. Who can forget when the team battled back from a huge deficit and the ejection of Marcus Elliott to win Game 2 of the ABL Finals last season? Or when the team had to go through a grueling double-overtime battle to win the championship.
The resiliency of this team is what kept them from faltering last season. And based on their win versus the Knights, the spirit is still alive and well in the champions.
“All the praise to my teammates, all 12 guys,” a victorious Tyler Lamb said. “We were down the whole game, we could’ve given up, it looked like at some points we were gonna give up, but everyone who came in the game had a positive effect. We stuck together throughout the whole game and that’s the only way you can battle back and win a game like this against a tough Indonesia team.”
After the first quarter in Surabaya, Hong Kong only scored 10 total points. At one instance in the game, the Knights scored 18 unanswered points, putting Hong Kong in a huge 15 point deficit. In the final 21 seconds, Lish hit a monster triple to put the Knights up by three.
By all accounts, the game should have been over. But it’s only over when Hong Kong says it’s over.
“The main thing it says about our team is that we don’t give up,” Lamb said. “We’re gonna play until the final whistle blows. And when we play like that, if we happen to lose, we can live with that. But we can’t live with losing and knowing that we didn’t give our full effort. I think that’s the main thing this says about our team”
So they kept battling. They rallied back over and over again, behind the tanacity of local Li Kee, the sharpshooting of Lamb, the overall brilliance of Elliott, and a rejuvenated Christian Standhardinger, who scored the final 11 points of Hong Kong, including three crucial free throws to tie the game and force overtime.
“Li Kee does the things that you don’t see on the stat sheet,” Lamb said of his teammate’s performance. “That’s what makes him so important. The stuff that he does, the intangibles that don’t show up on the stat sheet, that’s what wills us to win. That’s what gives us the momentum. He played out of this world today.”
When the smoke cleared, Hong Kong’s defense held serve, limiting the Knights to only three points in overtime. They left Surabaya with a win, and more importantly a reminder that heavy is the crown that the champion is forced to wear. For as long as they are in contention to defend the title, teams will be coming for them. They got a reminder in two uncomfortably close wins.
They know this now. And according to Lamb, the team is ready to embrace the challenge. “[We] wouldn’t have it any other way,” the Thai-American shared. I would rather each team come out and give us their best shot, because that’s only going to make us better, being the defending champs.”
Hong Kong has two tough games on the road before coming back home. They take on a red hot Mono Vampire squad on December 8, then a Finals rematch with the Singapore Slingers on December. Only then will they make their before making their highly awaited home debut on December 13 versus Tanduay Alab Pilipinas. They will be tested by each of those squads. Their ability to adapt and respond will be needed sorely.
“With our team, we like to be a close-knit group,” Lamb says defiantly. Just facing adversity and knocking down each challenge, I think that’s the best way to our road to the championship. So i look forward to the challenge.”