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Vanguardia upbeat about Dragons’ title hopes

Filipino coach Ariel Vanguardia rued the Westports Malaysia Dragons’ failure to capture the ASEAN Basketball League crown on Sunday when the Singapore Slingers forced a deciding fifth game of the finals courtesy of Wei Long Wong’s buzzer-beating jumper.

The Dragons, who lost Game 4 75-73 at the OCBC Arena in Singapore, failed to score on their last few possessions, setting the stage for the Slingers’ Wong to beat the clock with a right elbow jumper off Fil-American Jason Brickman.
While Malaysia will have the benefit of playing in front of its home fans at MABA Stadium in Kuala Lumpur for Saturday’s rubber match, Vanguardia expects Singapore to come out even tougher.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Vanguardia said after Game 4. “We came to Singapore, got the homecourt advantage back (after losing Game 1), and we hope that we can protect it. But nothing’s gonna be easy (in Game 5), we have to earn it.”

The many-time PBA assistant and former Jose Rizal University mentor was hoping to end the Dragons’ long chase for an ABL crown after bouncing back from an 84-80 loss in the opener with two straight wins.

But Singapore, which played flat in Friday’s 90-72 Game 3 defeat, came out strong with imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander regaining their scoring ways, while Wong scored all of his eight points down the stretch.

“We expected a fight from the Slingers,” Vanguardia said. “They fought hard and played very well. But the good thing is we didn’t give up, we were down most of the way and kept the game close.

“But we gotta be smarter in the endgame. We have three opportunities to take the lead and we didn’t, but that’s basketball. Wei Long (Wong) made an unbelievable shot, they’re playing in their homecourt, and they protected it.”

Vanguardia is banking on American import Reggie Johnson to rebound from his struggles in Game 4, for Fil-American playmaker Jason Brickman to be productive and Fil-Canadian Matthew Wright and American Calvin Godfrey to remain consistent.