There will be new champions in the ABL as defending champion San Miguel Alab Pilipinas was booted out via a sweep by Hong Kong Eastern at home inside the loud Southorn Stadium, winning 102-84.
Brimming with confidence after picking up a huge win on the road in Game 1, Hong Kong Eastern knew they could overcome a double-digit deficit in enemy territory and it would be easier to do it at home.
After falling behind by as much as 12 points in the first quarter, 18-6, after a PJ Ramos triple, Hong Kong Eastern caught fire and never looked back.
They led by as much as 25 points in the game to dominate the defending champs and book their ticket to the semifinals where they will await the winner of the series between the Singapore Slingers and Macau Black Bears.
The biggest story for Hong Kong Eastern heading into the playoffs was their lack of ceiling. After parting ways with Sam Deguara and reactivating O’Darien Bassett, they only had one legitimate big man in Mike Holyfield. While it could have been a concern for some, Hong Kong Eastern head coach Edu Torres flipped the script and instead made the story all about their depth in the guard positions.
What turned the game for the home squad was their backcourt defense late in the first quarter. From facing their biggest deficit of the contest, Hong Kong Eastern went on a 19-5 run to close out the opener, limiting Alab to score only on free throws. During that span, the home team got three steals to wreak havoc on Alab’s offense as they found it difficult even to cross half-court at times.
Seeing the frustration from the Alab guards, Hong Kong Eastern pressed even more.
It also helped that their three-point shooting started to work as they made eight triples in the second and third quarters while Alab failed to knock down even a single one in the same span.
Hong Kong Eastern made 16 of 37 attempts from the outside against Alab’s 7 of 25.
“It’s like a perfect storm,” said Torres after the match. “We gained a lot of confidence from Cebu and it showed in this game. Even if we started the game flat, when we hit a couple of shots, we were fine. The guys played with an unbelievable effort and determination.”
According to the former Coach of the Year, it was all about confidence for his team.
“The key really was when we overcame a double-digit deficit in Cebu because we had nothing to lose in that game. That changed our mindset,” said Torres who also raved about the performance of his locals such as Lee Ki who finished with 18 points on 3 of 3 shooting from the outside and Lau Tsz Lai who scored 12 points, all on triples.
“It’s the third season of our team in the ABL and the league knows that our locals can play that way,” the coach said. “OD and Marcus (Elliott) are good but they are willing to share the ball so it makes our locals even more dangerous.”
Elliot top-scored for Hong Kong Eastern with 29 points while Bassett had 28 points and 15 assists.
Alab, on the other end, banked on Ramos who had 21 points and 13 rebounds while Renaldo Balkman chipped in 16 markers. Parks, in what could very well be the two-time local MVP’s final ABL game, finished with 19 points.
“I’m still so proud of the team,” said team owner and General Manager Charlie Dy. “We played through adversities and injuries. We came to fight and we gave it our all. Hong Kong Eastern came prepared. I have the highest respects for them because they are good spots. I wish them well moving forward.”
With Balkman, Brandon Rosser, Lawrence Domingo, and Caelan Tiongson all suffering injuries late in the elimination round, Alab lost steam in the end, dropping their final four assignments in the regular season to drop to the second spot.
“We’ll see what our next move will be. I want to thank our sponsors and supporters who were there even when we were losing,” Dy closed. “We didn’t want this to happen but it did and we know it’s for a reason.”