At the snap of a finger, the home-court advantage that San Miguel Alab Pilipinas worked on all season long is gone.
Hong Kong Eastern, the seventh-ranked team at the end of the elimination round, scored a huge upset, defeating the defending champions 90-88, Friday night the Hoops Dome in Cebu City to inch one win away from qualifying for the semifinals of the ABL Playoffs.
Knowing that Alab would most likely be their foes in to start the playoff, Hong Kong Eastern head coach Edu Torres still made the decision to activate O’Darien Bassett in lieu of Sam Deguara. Even if it took out a natural matchup for one of Alab’s imports, Torres thought that Bassett’s playmaking and scoring capabilities were more important.
And he was right.
With Marcus Elliott struggling from the field, it was Bassett who powered the offense for the visitors. There were multiple times where Alab looked ready to break the game wide open as they led by as much as 15 points, 60-45, midway through the third quarter.
Bassett responded for Hong Kong Eastern as he started an 11-0 run with a jumper and capped it with a triple to cut their deficit down to four, 60-56.
In the final period, it was a play made by Bassett that turned the ball game to their favor. Down by one, 86-85, after a Ray Parks basket, the talented import used a screen provided by Lau Tsz Lai at the top of the key. There was a breakdown on Alab’s defense as Parks stayed home with Bassett while Ethan Alvano switched to him too. This left Lau wide open for a triple to grab the lead for Hong Kong Eastern, 88-86.
Alab had one last chance to try and salvage the contest as Hong Kong Eastern turned it over with 8 seconds remaining. Parks lost his initial defender Bassett thanks to a big screen from PJ Ramos but Mike Holyfield took care of the breakdown by hedging between the guard and the center.
As a result, Parks hesitated and decided to take the shot himself but Holyfield read the situation and went up for the block. Ramos caught the loose ball and had no defender for a possible put-back but the buzzer sounded to end the game as soon as he had the ball in his hands.
Bassett led the attack for Hong Kong Eastern with 29 points while Elliott added 22. Holyfield managed a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds while adding four blocks. However, the person responsible for turning the game was Lau who had 9 points on 3 of 3 shooting from the three-point range.
As expected, Alab dominated inside scoring with 54 points in the paint compared to only 32 for Hong Kong Eastern. However, their bench was outscored 17-10 and the home squad was also beaten from the three-point range as they gave up 13 triples while only making 7.
Renaldo Balkman dropped 30 points while adding 13 rebounds and seven assists while Ramos chipped in 17. Caelan Tiongson had 13 points and seven rebounds while Parks scored 10.
The action now shifts to the Southorn Stadium as Hong Kong Eastern now aim to give Alab a dose of their own medicine by flipping the script from last season by sweeping the defending champions.
Game 2 of this series will be on April 3.