Young Englishman Ben Laird performed magnificently as Smart Dragons brought the hitherto unbeaten Emperors to their knees 67-57 in a fiercely contested Angkor Beer Cambodian Basketball League fixture at the Olympic Stadium Indoor Arena on Saturday.
The fall of the Emperors has left Mekong Tigers as the only unbeaten side after nearly six weeks into the second edition of the competition.
The Dragons had favourable wind behind them after posting a record three-digit score in their last outing and that positive energy showed itself in the way the side handled their tough rivals.
In a fourth-quarter flourish, Laird scored 11 points in a row, shaking off in the process a full-court press that the Emperors employed on him. He ended up as the Dragons top scorer with 25 points.
The game turned the Dragons way in the third quarter after the scores were tied at 27 when the teams went for the break. At the start of the quarter the Dragons tightened their defence, thus shackling Emperors hitman Kim Vengunoun, while in attack Leng Seng reeled off nine points in a row – six free throws and a three pointer.
Philip Elliot’s one handed dunk and Cham Nou’s buzzer beater gave the Dragons a godly 10 point lead going into the final session.
The Emperors staged a strong fightback in the fourth quarter until Laird’s scoring spree settled the argument in a favour of the Dragons.
In Saturday’s opening game, Pate 310, currently ranked second behind Mekong Tigers, pasted the CCPL Warriors 72-54.
Once they took a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter, Pate were never headed the rest of the way.
The absence of Vince del Mundo apparently had a marked impact on the Warriors performance.
In Sunday’s first game, Extra Joss Fighters got past Sabay Tiger Mosquitoes, who despite being much sharper in offence than their two previous games eventually capitulated in the face of their rivals sustained aggression. The Fighters won 76-66 after a wafer-thin lead of 34-33 at half time.
The Fighters’ top player Stephen Suriman was warming the bench in the opening quarter but this in no way diminished the side’s zeal in offence as Ken Gadaffi made his considerable size count with a basket off an offensive rebound and a mighty block of a Geoff Harry lay up.
The Mosquitoes did marginally better in the second quarter to keep the scores tight at the break and even levelled up at 36 early in the third quarter after briefly leading 31-25. But that was as far as they could get and the momentum had faded out by the time they got to the fourth session five points behind at 54-49.
With Suriman in full flight, the Fighters built up a 15-point buffer with not much time or opportunities left for Mosquitoes to bridge the gap. Jeff Kane and Steve Chunn pulled back a few to cut the deficit down to seven with a minute to go but then Mosquitoes desperation led to a few fouls and more misery.
In the day’s second fixture between two tail-enders who had lost their three previous games, NSK Dream at last broke the ice by beating GL Concrete 81-52.
The Dreamers took charge from the get go and kept pumping baskets freely as Concrete struggled at both ends. By the third quarter, the Dreamers were so far in front that there was no prospect of their rivals catching them.