FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM THE GAME
Maxie Esho’s turn to spearhead the Heat scoring.
In the Saigon Heat’s first two games coming out of the holiday break, the team’s newest world import took a backseat to Michael Williams. In Saturday evening’s game, the American center made sure he would not be overshadowed. Maxie Esho established himself early on, jumping out to an early 14 points in the first quarter. As an undersized center, he was able to use his shooting ability to his advantage, not only in hitting from beyond the arc, but more importantly, in creating open drives to the rim that were often uncontested through shot fakes that the Kung Fu’s Justin Howard bit on time and time again. Esho would finish with a game-high of 35 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and one blocked shot while playing the entire duration of the game.
Kung Fu locals looked lost.
The Chongson Kung Fu came into the contest already shorthanded, as they were without their marquee local player Guo Kai. Chongren He was slated into Kai’s starting position and wasn’t able to come close to the kind of production we’ve come to see with the former number one overall pick from the CBA. Though He was able to contribute six points and two rebounds, he was an inefficient 2-of-7 from the field in his 29 minutes of play. On top of that, Chongren made crucial mistakes down the stretch of a close game, including a questionable travel call and an unsportsmanlike foul with less than three minutes to go in the game. Aside from Kai’s starting replacement, the visitors essentially got nothing else outside of their imports.
Caelan Tiongson dared to shoot.
With an undersized Saigon Heat squad, additional bodies were used in defense of Justin Howard’s paint presence which forced open opportunities for the Filipino-American Tiongson. He started out struggling from the perimeter as the Heat dared him to shoot, but eventually settled in, converting on 3-of-9 shots from three-point territory for a decent 33 percent. Aside from that, the ASEAN import had himself a pretty solid outing as he led his team with 23 points and shot 53 percent (10-of-17) from the field overall to go along with seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Perhaps the biggest value here was the defensive effort he was able to put in on the Heat’s David Arnold and Moses Morgan, limiting the two to just 16 points combined. However, if Tiongson continues to struggle from the outside, it could pose a problem for the Kung Fu in future matchups.
Akeem Scott saves the day.
The Saigon Heat captain had himself a relatively quiet night despite his 16-point, 4-rebound, and 1-steal performance. He also had a 0-to-5 assist to turnovers ratio, but came up big when the team needed it most. With two minutes left in regulation, Scott took control of the game with clutch baskets as his team desperately tried to hold onto the lead. After a Moses Morgan layup with 18 seconds left to play, which pushed the Heat ahead by one point, Scott had the defining play of the game on a Kung Fu inbound pass. His lone steal and following finish at the opposite end gave the Heat a 3-point cushion and ultimately sealed the decision in favor of the home team.
After a disappointing season-opening loss to the last place Formosa Dreamers, the Saigon Heat are now 4-2 and sit comfortably in fourth place in the ABL league standings. They are also 3-1 against the top three teams in the league since their season debut, including being responsible for handing the previously undefeated Hong Kong Eastern and now the Chongson Kung Fu their first losses of the season. The role of being giant slayers is probably going to be a term that will follow the team for the rest of the season, that is, until they become a giant themselves, if not already.