By Harry Hodge
Everyone deserves a second chance. In basketball, that attitude will take you far in the playoffs.
Fighting for their postseason lives against a larger opponent, the Saigon Heat simply surrendered too many rebounds and second chances to San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, and the visitors made them pay with a 96-85 defeat and a quarterfinal sweep of the Vietnamese side in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) Playoffs.
Dominating the boards by a 60-25 margin, Alab was spurred on by a vocal contingent of Filipino fans behind their bench in a standing room-only playoff atmosphere. The Heat kept the game close with a 46-42 deficit, but it was all Alab in the third. Former New York Knick Renaldo Balkman netted 21 points and 12 rebounds in an affair that was chippy at times, with each team dishing out some hard fouls throughout.
“You can’t teach height,” observed Heat gunner Akeem Scott, who led all scorers with 22 points. “They packed the paint. At the end of the day, the rebounding killed us.”
Acknowledging the Heat’s playoff run coming to an end, the entertaining Scott said the franchise could take away some positives from the season, notably a .500 finish with a team-record 10 wins.
“It’s about building a culture here, and winning ways,” Scott said. “After a few days (of digesting the loss) we’ll be able to appreciate it.”
The quarterfinal series had already generated some headlines with the suspension of Heat bench boss Kyle Julius, who was slapped with a technical foul in Game One. Verbal sparring ensued with the officiating crew and Julius was suspended for the remainder of the round, leaving assistant Dave Singleton to assume head coaching duties.
“I’m just an extension of Coach Julius tonight,” Singleton said, having already served multiple seasons as an assistant with former skipper Tony Garbelotto and head coaching stints in the Vietnam Basketball Association. “(Alab) are a talented team. They have a lot of guys with unique skill sets. It’s unfortunate we lost, but we’ll be back.”
The general feeling was Alab will provide a formidable opponent as the postseason marches on. For Heat fans, it’s a familiar ending: The Heat have made it to the playoffs four years in a row, and have yet to win a game in the postseason. For Saigon to have taken down Alab, they would have had to play a mistake-free game. But Heat owner Henry Nguyen remained upbeat as players and fans co-mingled on the court to say their goodbyes.
“We’re still developing basketball in this country,” Nguyen said. “We’ve set a good foundation to keep getting better. (Tonight is) a disappointment, but I’m proud of our team. We’re making progress.”
For Vietnamese hoops fans, the sting of one season ending will be soothed with the knowledge another is about to begin, with the VBA set to kick off in a couple of months. So basketball isn’t gone; it’s just taking a short holiday. For more information about the Saigon Heat’s VBA side and competing teams, visit the league Facebook page.