The KL Dragons redeemed themselves with a battling performance in front of their own fans but in the end it was too much Jason Dixon as the Philippines Patriots advanced to the finals of the inaugural ABL playoffs, defeating the Dragons 70-65 at the MABA Stadium and winning the best-of-three series 2-0.
The Patriots center was simply unstoppable especially at crunch time, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and spearheading his side into the finals. His import counterpart Gabe Freeman had a poor shooting night by his lofty standards but still finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds proving his all-around worth to this formidable Patriots squad.
The Dragons were clearly a different team from the one that was embarrassed by the Patriots just 3 days earlier and came out intent on proving the critics that they did indeed belong in the playoffs. In particular, their import Chris Kuete, who had been a no-show in game one came out a different player, scoring 10 points enroute to helping his side to a 40-32 lead at halftime.
Kuete, who was much maligned in the first game, earned a mark of redemption with a handy double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds but more importantly played some solid defense on Freeman to limit the American’s effectiveness.
He was helped by local boy Loh Shee Fai who has used the ABL to great effect to establish himself as a legitimate 3-point shooter, finishing with 12 points as the Dragons’ third highest scorer on the night.
In fact the half-time deficit could have been a lot grimmer for the Patriots at the interval had they not gone on a slight mini-revival late in the half hitting 3 consecutive 3-pointers from Wainwright, Alcaraz and Ybanez to make the deficit a manageable one.
The Patriots were a different side in the third quarter as they tightened down on the defensive end, Jerwin Gaco providing a spark on both ends and playing with his usual brand of gritty, hard-nosed interior defending, earning a chorus of boos from the partisan home crowd.
Gaco’s 6 points in the third quarter helped his side narrow their deficit heading into the fourth quarter at which point his teammates took over, opening the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run to turn a 5 points deficit into a five point lead.
The Dragons fought back hard to tie the game at 63-63 but then Dixon simply took over with his vast array of inside moves, scoring his team’s final seven points, in the process fouling out his opposing center Jamal Brown and carrying his team past the finish line.
The Dragons can hold their head up high with this spirited performance and giving the Southeast Asian powerhouses everything they could handle and after an improbable late season run that carried them into the playoffs, their season has now come to an end.
As for the Patriots, they now head back to the Philippines and await the winner of the Slingers-Satria Muda series which is locked at 1-1 and will see a third and deciding game on Sunday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.