Even when the Singapore Slingers seemingly had one hand on the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) Championship, Maxie Esho and the BTN CLS Knights Indonesia refused to raise a white flag.
Successfully forcing a do-or-die rubber match on their home floor in Game 4 of the Finals, the Knights continued to believe that they had one final push in them. They trailed for most of Game 5, only taking the lead once in the first quarter, and were still down by 10 points at the 7:41 mark of the final period, but went on an inspired run late to slowly chip away at the Slingers’ lead.
Singapore still held a three-point advantage with 1:20 remaining, before the Knights’ Darryl Watkins tipped an offensive rebound off a Brandon Jawato miss to Esho, who quickly swished a three from the elbow.
With the game now tied at 79-apiece, former long-time Slinger Wong Wei Long, who now dons the purple and gold, buried his former team with another booming triple.
With his team now down by three, newly-minted regular season MVP Xavier Alexander made a basket to cut the Slingers’ deficit to 82-81 with 46 seconds remaining. But after the Knights missed a shot on the other end, Singapore could not buy a basket themselves, as the Indonesian side burst into celebration.
“I still can’t believe it man,” said Esho. “I thought X (Alexander) was gonna have this in his hands. Going through the game, he was gonna win, he is gonna have this. I understand his story so I try imagine his pain. So I thought I had to work harder, you know? I thought I had to work harder than that. I worked with my teammates man.”
After missing out on the regular season MVP award to Alexander, Esho was awarded the Finals Most Valuable Player after he averaged 20.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks during the grueling five-game series against the Slingers.
Last appearing for the Saigon Heat last season where they barely made the playoffs and got swept by the eventual titlists San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, Esho feels validated after taking his talents to Surabaya to join the Knights’ fold this year.
“I’m speechless. My first championship as a pro basketball player. It’s very overwhelming,” he continued. “I practice everyday, I go hard, my teammates go hard. A lot of people complain in our gym but we practice in our gym everyday. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears we gave.”
Esho went scoreless in the first quarter and only tallied a total of two points by halftime, but knew he had to step it up if they were to have any chance in Game 5.
“My teammates, my coach, my owner, a lot of people told me to just not put too much pressure on myself. Just go out there and play,” he recalled. “In the first half I was very hesitant, very passive. I listened to them. I believe I have faith. I work on these things that I do in here every day. I work on them every day and off days, days before games, I do this every day. I worked hard for this, and I know my teammates did too.”
He played with much more aggression in the second half, going on to add 23 points to up his final statline to 25 points, eight rebounds, one steal, and one block in 40 minutes of play.
The Knights did just enough, at the right time. And they can now call themselves the champions.
“We dedicated ourselves for this. That’s all I know. everybody who’s a big part of this. It’s all love, it’s all family here. All family.”
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