The Saigon Heat rallied back from an early double-digit deficit to dethrone the defending champion Can Tho Catfish, 69-68, in Game 5 of the 2019 Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) Finals.

Led by world import Tavarion Nix’s huge night, as he finished with 30 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks on 50 percent shooting from the field, the Saigon Heat were able to overcome a slow start after trailing by as many as 12 points in the game’s opening period.

The visitors needed every bit of Nix’s efforts as they clawed their way back into the game, cutting their deficit to within three points at the end of the first half. Despite trailing for the majority of the game, the Heat used a productive third quarter to take back the lead at the 4:48 mark of the period, 50-49, and never trailed again from that point onward.

However, Game 5’s conclusion was not without any late-game drama. With 22 seconds remaining on the clock and his team down 67-69, the Catfish’s DeAngelo Hamilton was sent to the foul line with a chance to even the score. He missed the first attempt, but converted the second to bring his team to within one point.

Following Hamilton’s made free throw, the Heat were given not one, but two opportunities to extend their lead and ice the game, with foul trips awarded to Nix and Richard Nguyen with the clock showing 20 seconds and 12 seconds respectively. The two failed to convert on all four attempts, giving the Catfish one last glimmer of hope to steal the game in the final seconds.

As the remaining time wound down to just 1.9 seconds, the Heat’s An Du Minh committed an unsportsmanlike foul, sending Hoang Nguyen Phu to the charity stripe for two more attempts to either tie the game or take the lead, in addition to his team receiving the the ball back afterward. But the Catfish guard also missed both of his free throws, which all but closed the defending champions’ repeat bid door, and a last-ditch Sang Dinh runner which missed its mark as time expired officially sealed it.

While the Catfish welcomed heritage player Sang Dinh back to the team’s starting lineup following a Game 4 suspension due to excessive technical fouls, it was local player Thanh Le Hieu who did the brunt of the scoring for Can Tho, finishing with a team-high of 18 points, while Hamilton added a double-double of 16 points and 16 rebounds. The usually reliable sibling duo of Sang and Tam Dinh combined for just 16 points on 5-of-20 shooting.

Adding to Nix’s 40-minute contributions, heritage player Richard Nguyen posted numbers of 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, and four steals, while local Minh Trieu Han chipped in nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field in the Heat’s championship clinching road win.

The 2019 VBA title is the Heat’s first championship in team history.

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