SINGAPORE – It was a bitter start for Westports Malaysia Dragons doused in the hands of their arch-nemesis Singapore Slingers 80-62. Off to a first defeat, the Slingers took their revenge over Malaysia Dragons from their previous loss in the finals last March.

Singapore Slingers won their first game by 18 points although they began the first half at a slower pace but later picked up the pace as Dragons began to lose their ground. Slingers took the chance and dominated the whole second half of the game.

Without a doubt, the Singapore Slingers were expected to continue the season on a high note with the similar line up for the past two seasons. The Dragons will have to face a strong battles up ahead as the ‘youngest team’ in the league.

Speaking to the press after the game, head coach Christopher Thomas pointed out that the first half of the game was going the way as planned during the practice.

However, the second half fell apart defensively he said.

“We got punched in the mouth to start the third quarter and we didn’t react the way we needed to.

“That’s part of growing up and not something that you can learn overnight. That’s someone you can’t even teach until they got the experience on the floor,” Thomas said.

The need to respond timely in the game

The Slingers took on a 48 percent field goals as Justin Howard, Xavier Alexander and Leon Kwek cashing most of the baskets for the team. Leveraging at least 60 percent of the total rebounds, the Dragons were faced with much challenge at 34.8 percent field goals.

“We didn’t respond, that’s something we call a nightmare. The second half, they were five out of nine from three, they ended up the game with shooting 48 percent and do the math for the game.

“That’s over 55 to 60 percent in second half, that’s the nightmare,” Thomas added.

Malaysia Dragons were off to a slow start in the first quarter, missing several shots and created too many openings for the Slingers to lead. Both Justin Howard and Leon Kwek dominated the board with 7 and 8 points each in a nine-men play in the court.

This may have been the first game for the brand new line up for Dragons up against the same team in the finals last year. Towards the closure of the first quarter, the Dragons were trailing by 7 points, 18-11.

While the Slingers were facing several foul troubles at the start of the second quarter, the Dragons took advantage and quickly equalised their lead in the first three minutes. Freddie Goldstein took on the chance and gambled a long shot three to tie at 18-18. Riding on the dominance in the court over Slingers, Kuek Tian Yuan warmed up and raked another 9 points to extend the lead but it was quickly doused over by the Slingers. The Dragons managed to close the first half at 32-32.

Both teams were scoring below 40 percent but as the game progressed towards the end of the first half, the Dragons adjusted accordingly and took chances on the threes to close the deficit. It was still a hurdle to penetrate Slingers’ line of defense with Howard dominating in the paint for rebounds.

Luck was not the the side of the Dragons at the start of the second half. Much of the possessions were outwardly right in the hands of the Slingers throughout, all across the board.

Slingers took control of Dragons’ dissipating line of defense, leveraging on Howard’s massive pounder with Alexander and Kwek. Barely five minutes into the game, Slingers were in the run with 12 points while Dragons’ cringed on with merely a point from Skylar Spencer’s free throw.

The Dragons’ were left trailing by 11 points, 44-33.

Hoping to make better adjustments to the lapse, the Dragons were unable to subdue Slingers’ dominance at the home court as the third quarter clocked a 15-point lead, 56-41.

Right to the end of the second half, Dragons were not able to take control of the court, thus committing more lapses and openings for the Slingers to dominate the floor. In the final four minutes of the game, Slingers were far ahead in double digits, 72-51.

The Dragons seem to have lost their way in the final two minutes of the game, losing possessions one after another to Slingers to score 6 points back-to-back within the 30 second period.

Follow the lead and the game plan

Head coach Christopher Thomas poured out his thoughts that the team were not playing an effective defense but rather a selfish defense basketball among the players.

“We started playing selfish defensive basketball, gambling for steals, not staying true to our assignments, not defending actions the right way. Stuff we went over and practice,” he said.

Thomas also pointed out that the Slingers were making scores in transition but the Dragons gave their way in to allow their dominance.

“The only way the team (Slingers) can score in transition and we allow to get out in transition to beat. That, to me is frustrating.”

He also mentioned that despite having the first losing game against the Slingers, the Dragons still have 19 more games to play to build a team he envisioned.

“We’ve got 19 more of these games. I’m far from a finished product for the Dragons. We played nine guys tonight.

“It’s the reps. It’s getting the necessary reps and if you’re not available to do the reps, it will be hard to play you at that point of time. I like our defense to stay consistent,” Thomas commented when asked about some of the players who were away training with NS Matrix prior to the start of the new season of ABL.

Westports Malaysia Dragons will be facing Saigon Heat on December 17th at 5.00PM local time. The match will be held at the CIS Arena, Ho Chi Minh City.

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Westports Malaysia Dragons: Freddie Goldstein (22 points, 5 steals, 4 rebounds), Marcus Melvin (15 points, 8 rebounds), Kuek Tian Yuan (10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), Skylar Spencer (7 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists), Wong Yi Hou (6 points, 3 steals)

Singapore Slingers: Justin Howard (22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists), Xavier Alexander (20 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals), Leon Kwek (20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals), Wong Wei Long (10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists)

Scores by quarters

Teams Slingers Dragons
First Quarter 18 11
Second Quarter 14 21
Third Quarter 23 9
Fourth Quarter 25 21
Final Score 80 62

(Post game press release prepared by Norman Goh – norman@kldragons.com)