"We made history."
Those were the words of Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang after his side's 68-60 triumph over Hi-Tech Bangkok City yesterday saw them reach their first ASEAN Basketball League finals since the tournament's inception in 2009.
The Slingers followed up last Friday's convincing victory over Hi-Tech in Bangkok with another rousing performance at the OCBC Arena, and Neo wants the momentum to continue.
"I'm really proud of the players, but we cannot be satisfied yet," he said.
"We just want to take a deep breath, a good rest and get ourselves prepared for the Malaysia Dragons next week."
The Slingers will face top-seeded Westports Malaysia Dragons in Kuala Lumpur on Friday for the first match of the best-of-five finals. The first two games will be in KL, before the series moves to Singapore's OCBC Arena for Game 3.
Yesterday's decider started slowly, but quickly developed into a tightly contested physical encounter with the teams entering half-time separated by just three points.
Neo was full of praise for his side's defence as they prevented 2.16m Hi-Tech import Christien Charles from scoring a single point before the break.
After the break, the hosts started to show more impetus on offence, with American import Xavier Alexander and three-point specialist Wu Qingde posting a total of 17 points as the Slingers gradually pulled away.
The fourth quarter, however, brought some anxious moments for the 1,300-strong partisan crowd.
With two minutes left on the clock, key Hi-Tech guard Fred Jones-Goldstein Jr duly converted a three-point play to bring the defending champions to within six points of drawing level.
Desmond Oh then failed to relieve some pressure by missing a couple of free throws, but the Slingers held their nerve to hold out for the win, courtesy of two points from a fist-pumping Kris Rosales.
"One thing about our team that we've been saying from day one is we're very scrappy," said Alexander, who ended the match with a whopping 29 points and 14 rebounds.
"And we're going be scrappy in (the finals) too. We have players that have the will to win, and we're going to play our hearts out."
Neo brushed off suggestions that the pressure of a maiden appearance in the finals will be a disadvantage for his side against the top seeds.
"Two away games don't bother us, because we played in KL and beat them," he said, referring to their 78-71 win last December.
"We did it again in Thailand, so we've shown that we are capable of playing anybody, home or away. We're pretty confident of handling (the finals)."
Game 2 will be in KL on Sunday, before the Slingers host the Malaysia Dragons five days later.
"Malaysia finished above us in the league, so there's no way we're letting go of that in the championship," Alexander said.
"I'm definitely going to enjoy (this win), but it's not over. My goal when I came here was to win the championship, and that's what I've been working for."
This article was first published on March 7, 2016.
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