“We have to get the win!” says Slingers Big man Donald Little before the game.
This was a game the Slingers desperately needed to win.
The Slingers came into this game with a 4-game losing streak – an outcome that they had desperately attempted to change. After losing to the Chang Thailand Slammers in an overtime thriller, then to the Patriots at home, in a tight game, the Slingers suffered a blow-out loss to the Dragons on the road.
Slingers assistant coach, Michael Johnson mentioned in an interview before the Indonesia Warriors that he wasn’t too sure if the Slingers were “in a hole”. And, the Slingers went on the lose the game on the road.
But make no mistake, after 3 chances of redemption, and 3 occassions of pre-games “we have to get a win”, the Slingers have proven the point that they are indeed “in a hole”, and facing deeper problems that they can no longer hide. No longer can they give excuses and deem the losses as coincidental or “slip-ups”. These losses are realities. They are hard-facts staring straight at a team who once topped the league table.
Up against the team with the worse-record in the league – the Saigon Heat, and playing on their home turf, the Singapore Indoor Stadium – the place where the home-crowd fuels the team’s energy and where the locals have shone brightly in games – this was a perfect opportunity for the Slingers to stop the bleeding.
But at the end of the game, the score stood at 72-67, with the Saigon Heat recording their 2nd and 2nd straight win. As Jahmar Thorpe, the Heat’s newest addition, sank the first of two free-throws with 4 seconds to go, the Heat coach sent a delightful fist-pump into the air. The Slingers could only looked on in dismay as the Heat celebrated their 1st ever Away win.
Jahmar Thorpe contributed 24 points of the Heat, though he certainly was no upgrade for Julius Hodge. On the Slingers end, Louis Graham spotted 19 points and 18 rebounds, while Donald Little recorded 15 and 8.
In the first quarter, the score was close with the Slingers up by 1, 16-15. But the scoreline was no true reflection of the horrors that would haunt the Slingers for the rest of the game. The 1st quarter, as usual would prove to be the Slingers Achilles Heel, as they would once again fail to make a quick start. The game started with the Heat going up 10-2 before Canta hit a bankshot with 6 minutes left to stop the bleeding. The Slingers then started to play catch-up for the rest of the quarter, and it was on Wong Wei Long’s three-pointer with 22 seconds left in the quarter that the Slingers took over the lead.
In the second quarter, things would pretty much proceed on the same way. Although the Slingers managed to keep the score close, their offense was plagued by poor decisions as they surrendered numerous points-off-turnovers. The defensive side was no different. Not only did the quarter start with the Slingers getting into foul trouble, resulting in the Heat shooting 14 free-throw, they failed to stop the drives of Jahmar Thorpe and John Smith who connected on numerous easy lay-ups. The quarter ended 35-32 in favour of the Slingers because of the Heat’s freethrow misses.
This trend proved disastrous for the Slingers the second half as they no longer could rely on the Heat’s missed free-throws to keep the lead. The game was tied in the first 2 minutes of the game, but the Heat started to capitalise on the Slingers offensive and defensive struggles to pry open a 8-point lead with 5 minutes left to go. Desmond “D-Glove” Oh answered with a three of his own to cut the lead down to 5, but it would later prove futile as John Smith drove to the basket and hit a running bank shot that would foul in. Noy Javier, Jahmar Thorpe and Jonathan Jones then took turns to hit big shots to give the Heat a 9-point lead. Louis Graham hit his first long-range shot with 3 seconds left in the quarter, but it didn’t stop the Heat from leading 58-51 at the break.
The only signs of life came in the first 4 minutes of the 4th quarter as traces of the team’s old defensive prowess were seen as they held the Heat scoreless and took over the lead 59-58 on a Donald Little lay-up. But that would be all, as the Heat went on a 9-1 beginning with Louis Graham committing a shooting foul on Thorpe before the buzzer that gave Thorpe 3 free-throws. With 4:30 left in the game, Noy Javier committed a controversial hard foul on Wei Long much to the displeasure of the fans. The referees, however, did not call a flagrant and Wei Long was sent to the line to shoot just two free-throws.
This fired-up the Slingers as they came back with a 7-zip run of their own to tie the game up at 67 with 1:35 left to go. But John Smith came up big as he connected another driving lay-up shot that also drew a foul. Javier who then shoot the free-throw that went in. With that foul, Slingers local star Wong Wei Long also fouled out of the game.
The Slingers had one last opporunity with 16 seconds in the game. But, like the story of the rest of the game, mistrust and miscommunication caused them dearly as they failed to even get a shot up in the air. It seemed like no one dared to take that last shot, as the Slingers desperately tried to pass the ball off to each other. Only at the end, it was Canta who lost handles and the possession was returned to the Heat with 5 seconds to go. The Slingers was forced to foul, and as Thorpe sank his 1st foul-shot, the end was sealed. A dejected Wei Long headed straight to the locker room after the game.
The Slingers who suffer their 5th straight loss and are now 4-6 after going up 4-1. But this loss was more than just an ordinary loss. It signalled signs of fractures within the Slingers team that could no longer be concealed.
“We didn’t play as a team”, said Louis Graham after the game. But Louis Graham who had 19 points was just 6/18 in the game, and only had 2 assists.
“There are problems not just with our offense, but also our defense,” said Slingers defensive stopper, Desmond Oh who had 6 points in the game.
This was clear as the Slingers no longer boast of the best defensive record in the league. In the last 4 games, they conceded an average of 75.8 points to their opponents – a far-cry from the 62.3 points for the 1st 6 games.
Not to mention, the Slingers were no doing better on the offensive end owing to poor shooting. And mainly, this came from Louis Graham who has struggled to find his shooting rhythm. The former NBDL player has connected only 7 of his 44 three-point shots, and shooting 3s at a dismal 16%. Christopher Vaughn Canta would scored 19 points in the Patriots is back to his usual non-production on the offensive end, and has never scored above 10 points since.
The Slingers are now turning to their big man, Donald Little, to carry the scoring load. Though Little’s points have increased, this has done indeed little (no pun intended) to help in the Slingers offense. The Big man is shooting only 45% from the field and 46% from the foul-line – a place where he frequents.
Demanding scoring from the big man has also harmed his rebounding and defense – the categories that he excels in. In the last 3 games where Little averaged 18 points, his rebounding averages went down to only 6.7 per game. This presents itself as a strange irony. While the Slingers is using Little to score, the Slingers are using Graham to gather their boards.
Despite this poor allocation of roles in the team, the Slingers locals have thus far shone and exceeded expectations, though by far, not enough to carry the team to a win. Sheng Yu, Desmond and Wei Long continue to play productive minutes, and they have each shone on separate occasions.
But the question remains, will the Slingers trust these budding local stars more to grant them a scoring role (a surprise combination that featured in each of the Slingers 4 wins e.g Desmond Oh’s 16 points vs Chang Thailand Slammer, Wei Long’s 15 points vs Bangkok Cobras)?
Perhaps, in this, lies the secret of the Slingers initial and proven success on the court…