This was certainly an entertaining way to open up the New Year indeed.
Just when it seemed like everything was going as everyone had expected, the Mono Vampires kicked into a second gear and almost became the first team in this season to leave OCBC Arena victorious. Alas, someone wouldn’t let them do so.
GAME DETAILS (3/1/16)
Final Score: Singapore Slingers 73 – Mono Vampires 65
The Vampires and the Slingers engaged in this match up about 2 months earlier. Interestingly, the scores of both games were almost identical (72-66, 73-65) and in both games, the Vampire clawed back from a double-digit deficit to comeback to within two points before a Singapore Local player stuck a dagger in them and their hopes of an upset.
Last time, it was Leon Kwek who cam up huge in the clutch.
What I liked and didn’t like
- Not This Time
At least the Vampires didn’t have to worry about Leon Kwek this game. The Vampires trimmed the lead down to 4 points with 2 minutes left in the first game these two played in, but Kwek scored 7 of the last 9 Slingers points to shutdown the Vampires upset hopes.
When game time came, Leon Kwek would be unable to play coming down with a case of Dengue Fever.
At least this time, it would be the 19-year-old rookie that would spoil the Vampires hopes.
- Run, Slingers! Run!
The Vampires would have to worry a bit about the Slingers running all over the place however. You have to give credit for how organized they are on running the fastbreak. Unless it’s Xavier Alexander handling the ball, they barely dribble the ball when they push it up the court. The wings run straight up to the corner to wait for that open kickout three point shot.
Most importantly, Justin Howard is always sprinting up the court. And the Slingers are always getting him the ball when they can.
As someone who has played both interior and perimeter positions (I said I played, I didn’t say I played well), I know how discouraging it is as a Center to fight for the rebound, run up the court, only to see your wings players go straight at the basket which leads to you having to run back on defense without having touched the ball. You might say that that’s something you just have to bite your teeth through and deal with. However, every now and then, if the wing players hit up the sprinting center on the fastbreak, it really gives them a boost of energy and encourages them to sprint up the court on the next play.
I don’t think Howard would have kept running up and down the court if he didn’t get as many passes as he did. I still give him a lot of credit, even though he totally missed a dunk.
Kudos to the Slinger’s Coaching staff for emphasizing on this point.
On the other end, the Mono Vampires were visibly slow to get down in transition defense which is an area that they have struggled since placing Quincy Okolie on the injured list. The Vampires Manager mentioned that they revamped the defense during the break and while we saw some of that in effect in the half court (more on that later), they were still consistently out numbered defending the fastbreak. McClain isn’t Usain Bolt and Fey is hampered with a knee injury (which is rumored to have kept him from passing the Saigon Heat physical), so the Vampires didn’t have Big Bodies to challenge the Slingers on the break.
The LiveStats fastbreak numbers aren’t a perfect measurement, but the 19-7 advantage on fastbreak points for the Slingers in this game said enough. Fastbreaks were the major reason why the Slingers had a 13 point lead at the half and as much as a 20 point lead early in the 3rd quarter.
- Take it Slow
But then the Mono Vampires slowly got a hold of their half court offense and figured out that they had two 7-footers. Anthony McClain and Mike Fey combined for only 8 shots in the first half, but then got a total of 12 in the 3rd quarter alone. That would be where the Vampires would start to gain steam and rally from 20 points down.
It was understandable that McClain had Justin Howard on him to slow him down, but it took a while for Mike Fey to realize that he would either have a smaller Delvin Goh (who did a good job) or Xavier Alexander on him for most of the time. Once, he did and went to work in the post, it was easier for him to score.
Of course, the surge of post play for the Vampires wouldn’t have been possible if you didn’t have a guy like Froilan Baguion to feed the big guys.
- Bombs Away
Another component to the Vampires comeback and always a staple in the Mon Vampires offense, is Ratdech Kruatiwa’s three-point shooting.
I had the opportunity to interview Justin Howard before the game and he mentioned that while the team usually prepared their defensive gameplan around opposing imports, Kruatiwa is one of those rare locals that the defense has to adapt around.
Seems like the Slingers had to adapt quite a bit more to Kruatiwa in this game.
Kruatiwa went only 1/8 in the first half, but when the when the team needed to gain momentum, his three-point shots push them forward. He ended the second half going 4/8 including the big three point shot that brought the bench to Euphoria and Vampires to within 2 points.
To cap it all off, here’s a GIF of JO slipping on his sweat after making a difficult shot. Because you can’t look good all the time.
- In the Zone
As I mentioned, the Vampires said they had worked on their defense over the Christmas break along with their coaching change from Coach “Seng” Prasert Siripojanakul to a combination of Coach “Joe” Sunthornphon Mawinthorn (pictured below) and Coach “Tong’ Tongkiate Singhaseni.
And aside from their woes on transition defense, they really did look better when they settled down to a 2-3 zone. It also helped a lot that the Slingers aren’t exactly the best three point shooting team in the league. Settling down in the zone forced the Slingers to take threes which is something they aren’t obviously not used to, especially with Wong Wei Long suspended. The Slingers only have 2 games where they shot more than 20 three point shots (the amount they shot in this game). They lost one (23 attempts against Hitech) and won the other by only 2 points (22 attempts against the Saigon Heat).
There were some moments where the Slingers couldn’t figure what to do with the zone defense and settled for an awkward midrange shot.
- Uh Oh! Oh my goodness! Oh no, he didn’t!
The Slingers seemed dead on offense. The Mono Vampires had just closed on their 20 point lead to only 2 from a big shot from Kruatiwa. Of all the offensive firepower they had (Alexander, Howard, Wingde who had 12 points), it turned out to be Desmond Oh who would step up into the spotlight.
It’s hard to fault the Vampires on this play. They had been doing fairly well rotating in the zone when Oh got the ball. And it was Desmond Oh, who has been shooting 15.0% from long range (3/20) for the entire year. Who can blame them for not taking Oh’s shot seriously?
In my honest opinion, that first three pointer by Desmond Oh was huge, but it was forgivable for the Mono Vampires defense. The second three point shot was not as easy to take in.
The Vampires allowed the first offensive rebound and then their zone broke down, allowing a shot from Ng Han Bin.
The Slingers then got another offensive rebound and the positioning left Mike Fey stranded in the top two of the zone. The Slingers got the ball to Desmond Oh’s on the left side of the wing, on Fey-McClain’s side of the zone. The two centers would be two slow to react and the guy who had the hot hand sinked the dagger.
The Vampires had done a satisfactory job of keeping the Slingers off of the offensive boards, but allowing the last two probably cost them the game.
- Where’s My Highlight?
One small thing I didn’t enjoy about this game was watching it afterwards. The TV team tried a bit too hard to put in replays during the game and small patches of action were missed out.
I wasn’t the only one that was affected by this. During my long flight back to Bangkok after the game with the Mono Vampires, I was seated next to local big guy Chaiwat Kedum. He asked me to pull up an up-and-under move he pulled at the tail-end of the third quarter. I desperately skimmed through the entire span that Kedum played before concluding that the action was viciously cutoff and was replaced by a replay of a Wu Qingde three point shot in the earlier sequence.
Kedum might have seemed to wave off his disappointment by laughing it off, but I could feel that he was looking forward to seeing that small bit of action on video.
By The Numbers
Kris Rosales usually wears number 11 but switched to an unnamed No.1 jersey in the first half of the game after getting his No.11 jersey bloody from a shoulder bump to the mouth.
Just wanted to point this out and note that this is the second time the Slingers have had to use that No.1 jersey after Xavier Alexander wore the away version in an away game against the KL Dragons because Alexander reportedly misplaced his No.15 jersey.
- 6 minutes 32 seconds
A major reason the Vampires trailed by so much was because their offense just died in the second quarter. Though they ended the quarter with 8 points, they went through almost 7 minutes with only 1 free throw from Anthony McClain towards their total.
It also didn’t help at all that they let the Slingers shoot 62.5% in the first quarter and ended the first half allowing 51.6% field goal shooting.
If they hadn’t dug themselves such a hole early on, they might have been able to break away for the win.
The Slingers impressed once again, edging out a victory despite missing out almost 20% of their scoring in Wei Long and Kwek. They came out of the gates strong and stayed composed when the game got close. But I’m starting to seriously get worried about their three point shooting. It is true that they won this game because of long range shots from Oh, but for almost half a game, they struggled to find rhythm attacking the zone without a consistent three point shooter.
The Mono Vampires made changes that the Management felt needed and the first impressions aren’t that bad. Coach Joe has done a pretty good job of timeout management and substitutions and the defense that the Vampires have been practicing with Coach Tong has made it better.
However, while I like the idea of Fey-McClain on offense, it’s the defense that seems a bit doubtful. Both are tall and will make it harder for teams to score inside, but both are also really slow as well. If they are drawn away from the paint, they can get beat to the hoop. Not saying it’s a bad move, but not sure if it will be able to push them over into that playoff spot.
The Singapore Slingers will be taking a week long break before they take on the Pilipinas MX3 Kings at home this Sunday. We’ll get to see if the Kings have made any improvements from last year; but if they haven’t, the Slingers should be well rested up until their big match against Hitech Bangkok City the following week.
Before Hitech goes to Singapore, they will have to face the Mono Vampires, who are scheduled to play in the Bangkok Brawl Derby Match this Saturday. The numbers and trends say that Hitech should dominate this game…but it’s a rivalry matchup so you can pretty much throw out the numbers away. It could very well be a match that the Vampires can steal to keep their playoff hopes alive. Emotions will fly and no one knows how it will turn out.
Feature Picture Credit: Jason Ng
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