Lions roar to semifinal sweep of Saigon Heat


By Harry Hodge
David vs. Goliath. Frodo vs. Sauron. The Saigon Heat vs. the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions.
The comparisons could go on forever; the top-scoring team in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) led by record-setting scorer Marcus Elliott against a Vietnamese side that crept into the ABL playoffs in the final berth. And despite some first-half heroics in Game 2 of their playoff semifinal, there would be no fairy-tale ending for the Heat, losing 86-79 and being swept out for the third consecutive season.
Hong Kong simply had too much firepower, as witnessed in their Game One spanking of Saigon in a 114-74 defeat that shattered ABL playoff records for margin of victory. In Game 2 it was former New Jersey Nets big man Josh Boone getting it done for Hong Kong, with 27 points to lead all scorers. ABL journeyman Tyler Lamb was not far behind with 26 points.
That said, the Heat made it a lively affair in front of a boisterous home crowd, playing for the first time at CIS Stadium in four weeks. Saigon brought some stout defence and capitalized on some early Lions miscues and surged to a 48-43 halftime lead. Even then Saigon had some dramatic moments, with key sparkplug Lenny Daniel taking an ugly spill and Vietnamese-Swedish marksman Stefan Nguyen left bloodied by an errant elbow. Daniel had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the home side. But as the game wore on, Hong Kong’s arsenal of weapons was too strong to overcome.
“We were ashamed after what happened (in Game 1),” a subdued Nguyen said. “We looked at ourselves in the mirror.”
He went on to say overcoming the team’s 1-7 early start also provided plenty of adversity for the team to overcome before they embarked on a remarkable 7-3 run to squeeze into the playoff picture. It was a sentiment echoed by teammate Moses Morgan.
“It takes a lot of guts to come back from 1-7,” he said. “We took (the Game 1 loss) personal.
“We wanted to come out and play hard.”
Still, at the end of the day, the Heat see themselves bounced in the semifinals. Head coach Tony Garbelotto said the loss summed up a season of might-have-beens, looking back at the injury woes the team dealt with, notably marquee offseason signing Christien Charles only suiting up for a handful of games.
“I’m proud of the players, playing as hard as they did,” a dejected Garbelotto said. “We’re all prideful individuals.
“We’ll close this up and see where we’ll go next.”
Indeed, for Vietnamese ballers, the SEA Games and VBA season are looming in the not-too-distant future. But for fans of the ABL, it’s difficult to imagine Hong Kong not hoisting the championship later this month.


About hodgedude

I'm a Canadian journalist and teacher, most recently living in Edmonton and Toronto, now located in Ho Chi Minh City. Graduate of Concordia University in Montreal. I've taught English in S. Korea, pulled rickshaws in Canada, taught at a Taiwanese language boot camp, edited newspapers in China and played a French-speaking Spanish colonel on Vietnamese TV. I also play Australian football. Pick up a copy of issue one of my independent comic, "Getting Lucky," at Happy Harbor Comics in Edmonton, the Comic Hunter in Moncton, New Brunswick, and the Spotted Cow Pub, 111 Bui Vien, District 1, Saigon.
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