By Harry Hodge
So in 2012, the Hunger Games movie came out. PSY was rocking out with Gangnam Style. And the Saigon Heat begin their ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) journey in Tan Binh District at a rickety stadium near the airport.
No one thought it would take so long for a playoff victory. But better late than never.
This year’s version of the Heat has produced in the regular season better than any other incarnation of the franchise, with a winning record (the team’s first-ever) and a club mark of 14 wins. But fans have longed for something to celebrate in the postseason since the team first clinched a playoff berth with coach Jason Rabedeaux and Tony Garbelotto running the bench and names like David Arnold and Justin Williams keying the attack.
On Wednesday night, the team’s long-suffering fans enjoyed a cathartic moment when the team finally broke through with an 86-81 triumph over the visiting CLS Knights, tying their first-round series at a game apiece with the crucial final match in Indonesia in the coming days.
Sure, the confetti cannons showering the court with 15 seconds left in the game were a tad premature. But don’t tell that to Heat fans, who were also showering praise on American Trevon Hughes as he sank a pair of clutch free throws in a monster second half. The Heat rallied from a 42-38 halftime deficit thanks to Hughes’ 24 points in the second half and 30 for the match, while teammate Kyle Barone made some key plays including a clutch three-pointer with under two minutes remaining in a tight affair.
Former Heat star Maxie Esho notched a double double with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while regional stars Brandon Jawato and Wong Wei Long also registered double digits in points in the losing effort.
“(I’m proud) to be part of representing Vietnam,” said American Deangelo Hamilton, who registered 13 points after joining the team when Canadian forward Murphy Burnatowski left the team with a handful of games remaining to return to North America. “You don’t get that many opportunities in your career (to be part of a historic win).”
With upsets and surprises marking this year’s playoffs in the ABL, Hamilton noted it was any team’s opportunity to step up and steal a win.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” he said, with a final chance to make believers of the ASEAN basketball scene coming in the team’s crucial decider this weekend in Indonesia.