Baliwag Philippines: 7th April 2017
Slowly but surely, fans packing the Baliwag Star Arena made their way towards the exit, as shot after shot of the Singapore Slingers found their mark in the fourth quarter.
As the lead continued to grow, the inevitable became clearer: The Lion City would return to the Finals once again.
Behind the stellar play of Xavier Alexander and a breakout game from Heritage Import Josh Urbiztondo in his return to the Philippines, the Slingers led from the start and and punched the first ASEAN Basketball League Finals ticket with a 82-64 win over Alab Pilipinas.
Alexander was rock solid for the Slingers once again, as he finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. Urbiztondo contributed a season high 20 points on 4-8 from the three point area, along with with 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
“Everything was on the line,” Slingers’ Leon Kwek shared. “It was a do or die game for them, for us it was about closing it out.”
The Philippine-based squad immediately began the game with a handicap, as MVP candidate Ray Parks Jr. was ruled out because of an ankle injury sustained in Game 1 of the Semis. Guard Jeric Fortuna was also unavailable due to a separate injury. That led local star Kiefer Ravena, in only his second game with the team, to try and extend Alab’s season without Parks.
“It’s unfortunate he [Parks] had the injury,” Xavier Alexander said. “But whoever’s out there, that’s who we’re out there with, and that’s who we’re gonna battle with.”
The first quarter started out promisingly, as Alab was able to keep in step with the Slingers early on. Ravena took control of the team in scoring and facilitating, and also got help from an active Lawrence Domingo in the paint.
However Slingers World Import Xavier Alexander took control pushing the tempo and scoring at will. Wong Wei Long and Kwek also contributed on offense to finish on a 13-2 run to end the first quarter up 24-14.
Foul trouble hit Alab hard, as Ravena was whistled for his third foul in the second quarter. As a result, Ravena had to sit out majority of the second quarter.
That’s where the Slingers hit hard. The lead ballooned to 20 points at the 3:30 mark before eventually settling on a 47-29 lead at the half.
Sensing the need to strike, the Philippines would attempt a comeback early in the third quarter as they went on an 8-1 run. Alexander would respond with an emphatic slam on Lawrence Domingo, squashing the momentum of the home team.
But it seemed like every time Alab threatened to make a run, the Slingers were ready for them. This time, it was Josh Urbiztondo that would find the mark, as he scattered 7 points in the quarter to keep Singapore ahead. However timely threes from Ravena and Jens Knuttel kept Alab within striking distance, as the deficit dwindled to only six points before finally ending the quarter down 9, 60-51.
That would be prove to be as close as Alab could get, as the Slingers simply overwhelmed their opponents in the payoff period. Singapore opened the fourth in style in a 9-2, spearheaded by reigning MVP Wong Wei Long. Finally unshackled from foul trouble.
Urbiztondo piled it on via shots from the perimeter and drives in the paint, as the lead climbed to 19 with 6:17 left. His final field goal of the game, a three pointer with 2:16 left would be the final nail in the coffin, as the Slingers would not let up until the final buzzer sounded.
Aside from the game-long brilliance of Alexander and Urbiztondo, big man Justin Howard also had a solid 18 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. Local stars Kwek and Wong were also a big factor, as they contributed 10 and 8 points respectively.
Domingo paced Alab Pilipinas with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Ravena had 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in the losing effort.
“I think the whole team is very excited to get back to the Finals,” Wong shared after the victory “What we’re trying to do is play like a team and be strong in the Finals and be mentally prepared.”
The unselfishness was evident from the start, as the Slingers racked up 19 assists compared to only 11 for Alab. They also found the range from downtown, shooting 7/16 for 43% from downtown. The Philippines wound up only 2/15 from the perimeter.
“It’s all about the team,” Wong shared. “Everyone encourages one another- I think that’s where we stand out. We play as a team, our offense is set with discipline, and that brings us together.”
“We’re not a one man team,” the reigning MVP added. “Whoever is on the floor knows their job and how to do it.”
With the win, the Slingers now await their opponent in the ABL Finals, as the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions and Saigon Heat prepare for Game 2 of their series. But no matter which squad they face, one thing’s for sure: The Slingers have unfinished business, and they’re excited for another opportunity to take care of it.
“This is what I came back for,” Alexander bared as he headed back to the Slingers’ team bus. “This is what me and Justin talked about this summer, and now we’re finally there.”
Xavier Alexander: 21pts, 12rbs, 5 asst, 2 stls
Josh Urbiztondo: 20pts, 5rebs, 6asst, 2stls
Justin Howard: 18pts, 16rebs, 4 asst, 2 blks
Leon Kwek: 10pts, 3rebs
Wong Wei Long: 8pts, 2asst