The Chong Son Kung Fu Basketball Club were two seconds away from sending Game 2 into overtime.
Against a determined Mono Vampire Basketball Club and in front of a jam-packed Stadium 29 last Wednesday, the team from China was not ready to go home empty-handed.
But as fate would have it, Sam Deguara needed exactly two seconds to come up with the biggest play in the ABL season to give Mono the 83-80 win and a seat in the ABL Finals.
As for Chong Son, their chances of forcing overtime and even possibly extending the series ended in an instant. Even as Deguara went up to the line to finish his and-1 play, Anthony Tucker, Justin Howard, and Mikh McKinney, and the rest of Kung Fu already knew it: their season was over.
After the game, as painful and as heartbreaking Kung Fu’s defeat was, McKinney was able to sum up their effort best.
“Overall all I have to say is that we fought hard and we left it all out on the court,” said a distraught but still proud McKinney, who finished with 20 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, in a losing effort.
McKinney had a phenomenal rookie year in the ABL. He became a must-watch for ABL fans with his on-court ferociousness. He had the talent, versatility, and basketball IQ, to match his intensity on both ends of the floor. He became the perfect complement to the scoring prowess of Tucker and the defensive durability of both Howard and Caelan Tiongson. On Wednesday, McKinney even had to double his efforts as Tiongson had to sit out due to a concussion.
“This is the team that we had put together, we really felt that we had a great chance to win the championship even though it was our first year,” McKinney shared. “I love all my teammates on the squad.”
Chong Son was all set to make history this season. They were supposed to be the first team out of China to win the championship and the second team outside of the ASEAN region since the Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Team was able to do it last year.
By all accounts, they were poised to make all that happen this season. They ransacked the league, owning the best record with a 15-5 card. They entered the playoffs riding a six-game winning streak, a stretch that includes an incredible four-game home stand in a span of a week. They toppled the top contenders left and right on their way to the number seed in the playoffs.
And then everything changed in the playoffs when they faced the well-oiled Mono basketball team. They lost Game 1 – their first home loss of the season – before suffering a painful Game 2 defeat.
“It was a pretty hard-fought battle. They made a few shots that made the difference and there’s basically nothing nobody can do about Samuel Deguara’s height,” lamented Kung Fu head coach Charles Dube-Brais after Game 2. “We’ve seen it in the last play, but we’ve seen it all through the fourth quarter because he’s the difference when he’s out there and nobody has that kind of size.”
“When we felt good about those plays and you know, it’s playoff basketball. They made big shots when it counted, we didn’t make ours and that’s life,” added the coach.
If there’s any consolation, Kung Fu did lay it out on the floor just as McKinney said. They were down 15-0 to start the game and was only able to score midway through the first period. They could have wilted and surrendered right then and there, but decided to do better. The result was them being two seconds away from forcing overtime.
“I’m extremely proud of my guys because we held them to 83 points in their gym. I think that’s the lowest they scored all year especially giving up 17 in the first five (minutes) so that shows how hard we fought,” said a defeated, but certainly not discouraged Dube-Brais. “And it would have been very, very easy to quit at that moment when it was 17-2. We showed that there was no quit in us and that we were gonna give it a run and we felt good about us winning.”
When the score was 15-0 in favor of Mono, it was a basket by McKinney who finally put Kung Fu on the scoreboard. Fittingly, it was a brave three-pointer by the Filipino-American who tied the game in the closing seconds. It was indeed a valiant fight for Kung Fu and McKinney up until the very end.
“All can say is that everybody out here, the four imports and all the Chinese guys, they fought their butts off,” McKinney said. “We just gave 110% on an elimination game, with our backs against the wall. That’s what we did, we fought.”