As fans started leaving the Southorn Stadium, San Miguel Alab Pilipinas Forward Renaldo Balkman waved goodbye, shouting “adios” to everyone who could hear him. Because of what his squad was able to accomplish, this might have been the last time the defending champions of the ASEAN Basketball League perform in their home venue.
San Miguel Alab Pilipinas rode on a historic night from Balkman to win 98-94 over Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Team, sending the champs on the brink of elimination from the ABL Playoffs.
Balkman was superb, setting a new ABL Playoff scoring with 46 points. He eclipsed the mark previously set by Justin Howard of the Singapore Slingers last season, and did so with ferocity over whoever attempted to guard him. He also had 14 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks.
“We just came out and played hard, “Balkman said after the win. “Every possession we have to keep playing hard on defense, and we came together as a team. That’s what the playoffs are all about. I told them we were gonna put on a show when we come down here.”
But in the beginning, the show belonged to Hong Kong Eastern, as they used a red hot start to blitz Alab Pilipinas in the first quarter. Despite not having Head Coach Edu Torres at the helm for the crucial Game 1, Hong Kong Eastern was still able to start out hot. Lamb had 9 points in the period alone, getting his team off to a great start. A triple from Lee Ki at the 1:16 mark gave Hong Kong a 13 point lead, 23-10. The quarter ended mercifully with Alab Pilipinas down 25-14.
“It was going to take a huge effort from our part especially with how we started the ball game,” Alab Pilipinas Head Coach Jimmy Alapag said. “Hong Kong Eastern came out and grabbed the big lead but we continued to stay focused and not getting rattled until we found a way in the second quarter.”
The visiting team did exactly that as they went on a 9-0 run to start the second quarter, as a three from Balkman made it only a two point deficit, 25-23. They would eventually get the lead in the period with a triple from reigning Local MVP Ray Parks before eventually riding a 36-point quarter to a 50-43 lead at the half.
San Miguel Alab Pilipinas poured it on in the third quarter, as they continued to frusrate Eastern’s defense with the relentless attack of Balkman and the versatility of Justin Brownlee. In a night when their shooting from beyond the arc was ice cold at 4/21 from the field, they still found a way to produce by attacking the paint. A layup by Parks with 2:08 left in the quarter gave the team it’s biggest lead at 73-59 before settling for a 76-62 advantage at the end of the final period.
But Alab Pilipinas was not yet out of the woods, as Hong Kong Eastern began chipping away at the lead behind Marcus Elliott. The reigning World MVP scored 10 quick points in the first two minutes of the quarter to trim down the lead to seven, 79-72. A triple from Tyler Lamb got Hong Kong to within four points at 87-83, before Balkman made two free throws to give his squad some breathing space.
The thriller got even tighter in the final two minutes, as Lamb and Lee Ki made back to back triples, tying the game at 94-all with 56 seconds remaining. However Adam Xu fouled Balkman, sending him to the charity where he made two free throws that clinched the ABL scoring record. Lamb missed a go ahead triple attempt with 16 seconds remaining, and Brownlee proceeded to make two more free throws, icing the game for San Miguel Alab Pilipinas.
“We had a slow start but we wanted to be an extension of our coach,” Ray Parks said of his team’s mentality in the game. “You want to be resilient, and we wanted to show of the growth of our team. With the great World Imports that we have, all we can do is back them up and try to make their job easier. “We played hard and we sustained our effort to get this great win.”
Balkman’s 46 points paced Alab, and Ray Parks chipped in with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Justin Brownlee narrowly missed a triple double with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists.
Tyler Lamb paced Hong Kong in scoring with 32 points highlighted by 4/6 from beyond the arc. Marcus Elliott had the second triple double in ABL Playoff history with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
The series shifts to the Philippines on April 15, as San Miguel Alab Pilipinas will try to enter the ABL Finals and dethrone the defending champions.