My thoughts coming into this game was that the Mono Vampires were a good team, but that probably wouldn’t be enough for them to take down the KL Dragons. While that statement is technically 100% correct, the Vampires were surely closer to taking down the Dragons in their den then I had imagined.
94 points and forced 20 turnovers. That’s what the KL Dragons were averaging going into this game. That’s what the Mono Vampires were going up against. The Dragons would end up with one more win in their records after the game, but their 68 points and 11 forced turnovers made it pretty clear that they weren’t playing their game at all.
Final Score: Westports Malaysia Dragons 68 – Mono Vampires 64
Both teams started suspiciously slow, which should have hinted that this game was going to favor the Mono Vampires a bit more, who are accustomed to slow starts. The game was still tied up at a 9-7 Dragons lead around the 3 minute mark with Matthew Wright struggling a bit, going only 1-7 in the first quarter.
The Dragons would pick up some pace with their signature fastbreaks to end the quarter with a nine point 18-9 lead but they would get a scare when Calvin Godfrey collided with Reggie Johnson and had to get some medical attention at the bench. Having Godfrey on the bench was something that the Dragons should have gotten used to, and throughout the game, it really showed how important he would be.
The Dragons quickly built up the lead in the second quarter which would balloon up to as much as 16 at one point. It started out with Reggie Johnson working the post for 6 straight points, but the crucial factor to that big run was the Mono Vampires interestingly played a 2-3 zone, a defensive scheme which emphasizes interior defense but in turn, loosens up the perimeter defense. The Dragons would respond with a barrage of 3 point shots make a total of 4 long range bombs in this quarter.
But the Vampires wouldn’t go away easily. Calvin Godfrey picked up his 3rd foul with 2:35 left which left a lot of space inside for the Mono Vampires to weave in for easy cuts. They would make a run to close in the 15 point lead into a single digit 9 point differencial. “Palm” Darongphan Apiromwilaichai was the X-Factor (ahem) in this quarter going a perfer 6-6 from the field in a 14 point eruption.
The Vampires came out of the locker room still fired up from their late second quarter run and the Dragons just wouldn’t have an answer for them.
More specifically, the Dragons wouldn’t have an answer for the Okolie & Samerjai show.
Kannut Samerjai had hit a three-point shot earlier in the game, but had been quite silent up until the third quarter where he came to life. Always one of the more flashier players on this Vampire team, Samerjai crossed up players and dropped unbelievable passes (including a no-look, behind the back pass to Okolie for the jam which I don’t have a replay for because of the quality of the game replay) and hit two big three point shots. Okolie, who has been far from impressive as an offensive option for the Vampires, hit two shots post moves that certainly brought up the spirits of the Vampires. The two would combine for 15 points in this quarter in a 21-10 advantage to put the Vampires up by 2 points once the third quarter buzzer sounded.
At this point, I was at the media table when a fellow media member turned to me and said “They might actually pull this off.” which was probably what was on the mind of everyone on the court at that moment. The Vampires defense (still a 2-3 zone, which I will go in to detail later) got a hold on Brickman and Wright while also taking the advantage of Godfrey picking up his 4th personal foul. Everything was falling into place.
The 4th quarter was then something you had to have watched live to really feel the emotions. It might have been only a combined 29 point scoring affair, but the fans got plenty of action out of it.
The teams went back and forth when possibly the most crucial sequence in the game occured.
Mono Vampires were up by 2 points with possession of the ball and 2 minutes left on the clock. They were ready to pounce. Then Wong Yi Hou literally pounced Darongphan Apiromwilaichai…and got the steal. Jason Brickman got Calvin Godfrey on the fastbreak midsprint, Godfrey got up for the slam…and Chanachon Klahan fouled him. And was called for the unsportsman like foul.
Let’s break this down. This was two very important reactions from the refs. First was the non-call on the Yi Hou steal. From my perspective at that moment, it was absolutely a foul but Apiromwilaichai might have tried to sell too much to the refs. It’s 5 games into the season and the refs have been getting accustomed to the players. Apiromwilaichai is one who is known to “oversell” contact and maybe this time, the refs decided that they weren’t giving him this one.
Was it the right non-call? Probably not, at least in my opinion. But I do understand why the refs didn’t call it.
Moving on to the next call, Chanachon Klahan found Calvin Godfrey at the rim. The argument here isn’t if this was a foul or not because it was obviously a foul. But was it an unsportsmanlike foul as the refs called it? If we go by the eye test, this should be very clean. It was a two point game and this guy was going for a dunk to tie up the game with less than 2 minutes left. Were you supposed to just let him do that? Of course, Klahan had to foul. That’s where my opinion stands for this call. Klahan did what he needed to do.
But if we go by the rulebook, an unsportsmanlike foul can be called for:
• Not a legitimate attempt to directly play the ball within the spirit and intent of the rules.
• Excessive, hard contact caused by a player in an effort to play the ball.
I think Klahan was going for the ball, but when you are 6’3″ going up against a more athletic 6’8″ guy, you might grab a little bit shorter than the actual ball. What the refs might have saw was that Klahan went with two hand swing at Godfrey and for that the refs considered it “excessive, hard contact”.
Again, was it the right call? Probably not, at least in my opinion. But I do understand why the refs called it.
After that Godfrey made only one free throw and got blocked on the inbounds play so it wasn’t complete disaster for the Vampires, but the calls (and non-calls) threw them off their game and they came up empty in their next possession. Matthew Wright would come down on the other end to drop in a killer floater that would put the Dragons up for good.
The Vampires would come up empty again and the Dragons would set up for one final blow. Jason Brickman finally broke down the 2-3 zone which bothered him all day when he saw the Mono Vampires over commit to Matthew Wright. Brickman swung to the opposite corner where Kuek Tien Yuan would drop his first three pointer out of 3 attempts.
Third time’s the charm.
The Mono Vampires would not have any more answers for that and the Dragons would take the 68-64 point win.
0-5 seems like a really harsh record for the Mono Vampires who have played their hearts out on 5 away game and have not lost by more than 6 points. They’ve played really well and if you don’t trust my word, you can at least trust Coach Ariel Vanguardia’s assurance in his post game interview. At this point, no one is denying that they can play, but some are wondering how far they could go with an ASEAN import and an import that is more suited to be a first/second scoring option.
The KL Dragons got away with this one, but they exposed a lot of their weaknesses as well. Kuek might have made that final shot, but the Dragons needed way much more production from the locals. The Vampires exposed that the Dragons will have problems with their inside play should one of their big imports are forced to the bench. While Hitech (Sukdave Ghogar), Singapore Slingers (Delvin Goh), and the Mono Vampires (Chaiwat Kedum) all have a big body that can bang a few minutes with out their imports, the Dragons have yet to find that guy. But luckily they got through this game with a win and can look to improve from here.
What I liked and didn’t like
- 3 comes after 2
I totally hate the 2-3 zone because everyone thinks it’s the go-to defense for pick up basketball because “it’s not as tiring”. The fact that it’s not tiring because you are not playing it right doesn’t make it a better option that playing man-to-man, but that’s another story.
The story in this game is that the 2-3 zone was used by the Mono Vampires against the KL Dragons and it almost got them the win. It’s true that they could have been better off if the 2-3 zone didn’t give up 4 three-pointers in the second quarter, but as the game went on, the Vampires calmed down and their zone defense got better.
Similar to the Syracuse 2-3 Zone, the bottom two players spread out further than usual to the corner three positions.
Once the ball got into the paint (whether it was via an inlet pass or a drive) the bottom 3 of the zone would collapse on the ball, leaving the corner wing “open”.
The ball would most likely be passed out to the corner, where the top two would be lurking and get the steal.
At worst, the ball would be passed out to the top of the zone and the play would have to be set up again. It was obvious that this was not by coincidence, and that the Vampires had practiced this. And it almost worked out for them until that Keuk three-pointer.
- Fil-Foreign Connection
One thing that will probably fly under the radar is how the Mono Vampires slow down the Brickman-Wright connection. As mentioned, the Vampires played the 2-3 zone which cutoff the passing from inside to corner threes. A large part of those plays were Jason Brickman slashing and kicking out to Matthew Wright. If you watch a Dragons game live, you will notice how Brickman always seems to know where Wright is on the court and is ready to pass him the ball.
Out of Brickman’s 47 assists, 16 of them are to Wright (38.0%)
Out of Wright’s 42 field goals, 16 of them assisted by Brickman (39.1%).
The Vampires limited the the Dragons to getting only 2 Brickman-Wright baskets. Coincidentally, the only other game where the Dragons recorded less than 2 Brickman-Wright baskets was against the Singapore Slingers. They lost that game.
It’s not perfect math, but it seems like if you can stop Brickman from getting the ball to Wright, you have a better chance at beating the Dragons.
- Okolie, not a Jump Shooter
One thing I cannot understand is why Quincy Okolie is taking so many midrange jump shots. Everyone knows he’s not a jump shooter and everyone should be terrified of him taking one dribble and jumping towards the rim. He even showed that he can finish off post moves in this game. Yet there he was early in the game, taking jump shot after jump shot.
Play to your strengths, big Q.
The Dragons will be playing the Saigon Heat next on the 28th in a rematch of the glorious overtime matchup at CIS Arena. Let’s see if they suffer from having been exposed by the Mono Vampires or if they rebound to have a good game.
The Mono Vampires will take their winless record to the test once again. Having played all the other 5 ABL teams already, they will be getting their first taste of a rematch against the MX3 Pilipinas Kings. The Kings (then Pilipinas Aguilas) beat the Vampires only by a hair of one point but that was back when it seemed that they had everything under control. The Kings have yet to win since their name change and the Vampires have yet to win, period. It should be a hell of a must-win game for both of them.
Feature Picture Credit: Mono Vampire Basketball Club