The Saigon Heat sure know how to make a basketball game entertaining.
Watching an ASEAN Basketball League game at CIS Arena truly is something else because the crowd is always giving it their all. Seeing how they play when they are at home, not only does the team feed off the crowd but the crowd feeds off the team as well.
Final Score: Saigon Heat 70 – Hitech Bangkok City 74
The sequence seemed similar to their recent meeting back in Bangkok. Hitech looked primed to break away with the easy victory once again. In their last encounter, Hitech built up a 12 point lead early in the game. In this game, they held a 16 point lead in the third quarter.
And in both games, the Saigon Heat came roaring back to take the a one point lead.
And once again, the Hitech Bangkok City team showed their poise and finished the game strong for the one.
But it wasn’t quite as easy as playing at home this time around. It never is easy to play at CIS Arena.
What I liked and didn’t like
- Replacing Chris Charles
Let’s start with something I found very interesting while lurking postgame comments on social media (because that is how much of a loser I am). Roughly translated and summarized a Thai fan had commented that he/she recommended Chris Charles to be replaced because “he wasn’t playing well at all and he should work on his free throws”.
Once I had the time to settle down, I took a deep breath and looked deeper into his recommendation.
Chris Charles has shot 39 free throws this season and made 17, which accounts for 43.6% free throw percentage and 22 points down the drain. Fair point made. Chris Charles shot 64.4% from the charity stripe last season and the 20% drop is quite alarming. Among World Imports, Charles is shooting 3rd worst from the line.
Interestingly, if one uses free throw shooting as a base for replacing an import, that puts Anthony McClain (41.1%) and Quincy Okolie (42.9%), who are both shooting worse than Charles, in the danger zone.
Let’s look at the other things Chris Charles brings to the table. His 47.4% field goal percentage is mediocre compared to World Imports, but then again, it’s actually better than last year (44.4%) and good for a solid 17.1 points per game.
Among World Imports:
2nd in rebounds per game (14.4)
4th in rebound percentage (18.2%)
2nd in assists per game (2.6)
3rd in assists ratio (13.6%)
and most importantly,
1st in blocks per game (4.29)
1st in blocks percentage (8.9%)
I understand if Thai fans are frustrated about Chris Charles’ free throw shooting. I know I am. I know Chris Charles is frustrated as well. But the idea of replacing a back-to-back World Import MVP who is one of the cores of your defense is just a bit too imaginative. That’s even considering the process that the Hitech Bangkok City management have to go through to find someone who can immediately replace his production.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I respect that. But I hope this small rant here can make anyone change their mind about getting worried over Chris Charles struggles.
- Stefan “Cà Ri” Nguyen
It was a long delayed debut for Stephan Nguyen (or Nguyen Tuan Tu) and it was almost a storybook debut. Having been bugged with a herniated disk injury, Stefan was finally put into an ABL game with 2 minutes and 32 second left in the first quarter. And the crowd loved it.
And they had every right to love it. Nguyen gave them more dimension to their offense as expected. His length, steady ball handling, and high basketball IQ got the Saigon Heat plenty of easy baskets and his three point shooting was on point as well.
It wasn’t all butterflies and unicorns as Nguyen struggled a bit to defend Freddie Goldstein when assigned while he was obviously still playing on limited playing time.
Once Stefan Nguyen gets back to 100% and is cleared to play more than 17 minutes, the Heat should be a completely different team.
- Run HBC
For those who must know, “Run HBC” is a parody of “Run TMC” or the legendary Golden State Warriors trio of Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullins, and Mitch Richmond. HBC are the initials of Hitech Bangkok City. Whatever.
I loved how Hitech Bangkok City were exploiting the fastbreak opportunities in this game. Someone was always looking to push the ball up forward and if they saw that they had numbers, they attacked the basket.
It’s hard to stop Freddie Goldstein heading at you at full speed. Or cover Steve Thomas’ perfectly placed baseball passes. Or stop Chris Charles running the secondary break.
Hitech Bangkok City might seem like a team that is fit for the Halfcourt set, but they are as scary on the break as well.
- David Arnold, the Pick & Roll Nightmare
It might get lost among the putback dunks of Lenny Daniel and Moses Morgan’s three pointers, but Saigon Heat’s ultimate trump card is David Arnold on the Pick & Roll. Arnold is that type of player who has the right combination of ball-handling skills, shooting touch, court vision, and athleticism to drive defenses into headaches on the Pick & Roll.
If you go low on the screen, Arnold can pop for the three. If you hedge him too slow, he can blow by for the layup. If you put a help defender on him after the pick, he hits the open man. If you hedge him early and hard, he passes out of the double team fast. If he gets the perfect screen, it’s usually a pick your poison situation for the defense.
The Saigon Heat seems to have yet to perfect the combination however, as they were caught a couple of times letting Arnold’s defender to slip through the screen.
It is still one heck of card to always have in play for Coach Tony Garbelotto.
- Razzle Dazzle
A big part of why Hitech Bangkok City were up by so much in the third quarter was because of their electrifying point guard, Freddie Goldstein.
You might not be completely impressed looking at his scoring efficiency (21 points on 22 shots is not too good), but Goldstein does a really good job of setting up his team mates (7 assists) while controlling the ball (1 turnover). He might take some erratic heat check shots, but that’s what you take with a guy like Freddie.
For every shot that he makes you scratch your head, he makes these:
That was a cold-blooded three point shot in response to Stefan Nguyen’s big three-point shot earlier that brought the Heat to within 3 points.
Enjoy the highlights, Hitech Bangkok City fans.
- Completing the Comeback
As I mentioned, Hitech were up by as much as 16 points. They slowly cut away bit by bit (getting to within 9 at the end of the third quarter from a Moses Morgan quarter ending 3 point shot) and eventually completed the comeback to get in the lead by 1 point off of Moses Morgan’s fastbreak layup with 6 minutes and 42 seconds left in the game.
Because of course, it’s Moses Morgan.
The atmosphere at CIS Arena was just something you had to be there to experience. The crowd grew louder as every basket cut the lead down. They screamed their hearts out on defense. While Morgan was taking the ball up on the fastbreak, the crowd gradually grew silent and exploded once the layup went in.
Goosebumps, man. Goosebumps.
- I KNOW NO PRESSURE
Your team had just lost a 16 point lead. The home crowd is going crazy and your main offensive options had gone cold. Of course you give the ball to the 6’9″ bulk of steel who has won 3 ABL championships while going to ALL FIVE ABL FINALS.
Steve Thomas asks you: WHAT DOES PRESSURE FEEL LIKE?
After calmly going to the post and spinning in for the easy basket, your team makes a defensive stop and comes up with the ball. What do you do?
THE EXACT SAME THING.
Two clutch inside baskets and you snag the defensive rebound. You see Tyler Lamb streaking far away towards the basket. What do you do?
CHANNEL YOUR INNER BRETT FARVE AND THROW THE TOUCHDOWN.
Moses Morgan looks into your eyes as he runs the pick and roll. A chill runs down his spine. Freddie Goldstein takes that moment to steal the ball and go coast to coast for the layup.
Steve Thomas nods in approval. Just another day at work. In less than 2 mintues, Hitech Bangkok City were back up by 7 points with 5 minutes left in the game.
- Rear View Mirror
Once Thomas got Hitech back up in the lead, it seemed like a done deal, but I guess we should start to know better about the Saigon Heat.
The Heat didn’t back down and eventually got back to within one point highlighted (AGAIN) by a big shot from Moses Morgan.
One minute and 33 second left in the game.
After Hitech split free throws, David Arnold blitzed the defense and tied the game up at 70 with one minute 7 seconds left.
CIS Arena has been going crazy throughout this whole time and I am still getting goosebumps just typing about my memories of the atmosphere there.
By the Numbers
With the game tied, the ending came down to both teams overcoming what they had been struggling with throughout the entire game.
Hitech weren’t awful from the free throw line, but shooting 50% from the charity strip isn’t good either. Of the 66 games played last season, only 15.9% of the teams involved shot 50% or less from the free throw line. In this early season, only 19.0% of the teams have failed to exceed the 50% mark.
And for a team that goes to the line a lot, Hitech left 15 points left hanging in this game. It was how the Heat were able to nibble away at their lead in the first place.
HOWEVER, when it came down to when they needed to make their free throws, Hitech made them. Hitech’s final 4 points were off of free throws and it iced the game.
Turnovers were the Saigon Heat’s Achilles’s Heel. the 21 turnovers they recorded were the 5th highest any team has recorded and Hitech benefitted plenty from that. Especially in the waning seconds of the game, it was David Arnold who got stripped by Freddie Goldstein (who had 10 steals!!) and put the game further out of reach for the home team.
I actually had a lot more to point out in this eventful game but it would probably too long.
The Heat again showed that they are a very impressive team playing at home and they have to give credit to their fans as a part of that. At Bangkok, they didn’t have that energy to push them into another run like in this game.
Now armed with Stefan Nguyen, the Heat look poised to be a much stronger team, which spells danger for the rest of the league, especially the Mono Vampires and the Pilipinas Kings, who are all fighting to break into playoff contention.
Hitech Bangkok City escapes with a win again, but they will most certainly not be too happy about it whether it is the free throw shooting or the field goal percentage in general.
And the fact that they still look this good with glaring holes to patch up makes them a solid contender for reaching the ABL Finals.
Hitech Bangkok City will be playing the KL Dragons in their next game on the 13th of December in a rematch of last year’s ABL Finals and a potential preview of this year’s finals as well. Both teams are coming off wins and they will want this next game as a statement win. The KL Dragons might hold the upper hand by playing at MABA Stadium where the Dragons have a 14-2 record over the past season, but those two losses were at the hands of Hitech.
The Saigon Heat will be taking on the Singapore Slingers again at CIS Arena on the 12th. The Slingers will be putting the Saigon Heat fans to the test again after silencing them in the season opener. But now with Stefan Nguyen, the Slingers will be playing a very different team.
Feature Picture Credit: Kuk Onvisa Thewphaingarm