Slingers' streak reaches 7

Hosts still need to raise their game for chance to win ABL title, says assistant coach Johnson.

They were missing key players and stuttered against a lowly opponent, but the Singapore Slingers still managed to stretch their winning streak to seven games - their best-ever run - yesterday.

A 63-57 overtime victory over the Pilipinas MX3 Kings at the OCBC Arena kept Singapore's only professional basketball team firmly on course for a maiden ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) title. They are top of the six-team league with a win-loss record of 10-2.

While the result is a confidence boost for the Slingers ahead of Sunday's top-of-the-table clash against defending champions Hi-Tech Bangkok City (9-2), the Slingers will need to raise their game, as they were far from their best against the Kings, whose star player Arizona Reid was a constant offensive threat.

The hosts, who were missing key players Wong Wei Long (suspension) and Leon Kwek (illness), trailed in the first two quarters - by as much as 11-23 at one point - prompting frequent gestures of frustration from head coach Neo Beng Siang.

Foreign imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander struggled to make their mark on the game but fortunately, team-mate Wu Qingde stepped up to the plate. He scored a series of three-pointers in the third quarter, eventually tying the game at 40-40 with a buzzer-beating fifth shot from beyond the arc.

The fourth quarter was a see-saw affair, with the lead switching between both sides. In the dying minutes, the Slingers built up an eight-point lead only for the Kings to regain it at 56-54 through Nicolas Elorde's three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left on the shot clock.

With their final chance to make or break the game, the Slingers' Filipino import Kris Rosales received the ball as the game restarted, executing a dribble before draining a buzzer-beating shot that tied the game, bringing the raucous 1,000-strong crowd to their feet.

Controversy ensued as the Kings insisted the ball had left Rosales' hands after the shot clock indicated time was up. After a discussion, the referees ruled that he had shot the ball in time, sending the game into overtime with the score at 56-all.

With the Slingers having the momentum, Howard and Alexander finally got going against the deflated Kings. Howard, who was shackled by Kings' centre Nakiea Miller throughout, scored four points while Alexander scored three.

Assistant coach Michael Johnson praised the team's defensive prowess, but admitted that this was their worst performance of their 12 games thus far. He also lamented about their "anaemic" offence.

He said: "Without any disrespect to the Kings, if we were to play like this against Hi-Tech, we'll probably get our butts kicked. We didn't play at the intensity required."

With the imports below par, Johnson was delighted that the local players stepped up, singling out Wu, 23, and Delvin Goh, 20, for praise. He said: "If we were to put a ball into someone's hands late into the game, it would be his (Wu). Tonight that happened about six or seven occasions where he bailed us out with big threes.

"Delvin made five enormous rebounds, and also stepped up to hit two foul shots. We won this with our locals tonight."

Wu, the Slingers' top scorer with 21 points, credited his team-mates, saying: "They gave me the confidence and space to shoot. Without their penetration, I wouldn't have had the open shot."

With six of their eight remaining games at home compared to Hi-Tech, who have five away games to play, Johnson believes the Slingers can win their first ABL title.

"We need to shoot our free throws better and have fewer nights like this, but right now we have as good a chance as anyone else to win the league," he said.

"The ball is in our court."