Rankings were thrown out of the window at the Beeline Arena on Saturday as the playoff matches in the inaugural Cambodia Basketball Challenge to find the final two semifinalists unabashedly favoured the underdogs.
The third-ranked Mobitel XG Warriors were the first to bite the dust, unable to bear the CCPL Heat as the sixth-ranked side executed their game plan to near perfection. Heat beat the Warriors 67-54 to set up a semifinal clash next weekend with No 1 team Sabay Salty Crabs.
The fourth-ranked Sela Meas hit the buffers against the Phnom Penh Dragons, who finished fifth in the league standings. The Dragons, sticking to their patented offence, led all the way against their all-Cambodian rivals in a 80-70 triumph crafted by Mark Nabong and Kelvin Chan, both of whom garnered 18 points.
The Dragons will be up against Raid-Alaxan XR, the league runners-up, for a place in the CBC final. Both the semifinal matches have been posted for next Saturday, leading to the title decider the week after.
Heat’s two-point game plan, running smooth transition and excellent defence on key scorers at the other end, worked to a tee. The ever consistent Kim Ran had a profitable day with 20 points as he frequently came up with good cuts to the baskets and scored freely against the Warriors’ twin towers Joshua Schmitz and Jerry Manus.
From the word go it was Sok Tour who kept the baskets ticking, emerging in the end as the side’s top scorer with 21 points. It was the Kim Ran-Sok Tour tandem that virtually broke the Warriors back.
Also of great significance was the way Heat held Warriors best scorer Fred Babida on a tight leash. In fact, Babida went scoreless in the first three quarters against some smart rotational defence and managed only six points in the whole game.
The first three quarters were pretty tight with the Heat no more than four points ahead at the half way stage, 29-25.
The Warriors were closing in all the time with Manus, who eventually got to 14 points, muscling his shots under the board, especially in the third quarter when it was a one-basket game.
But a Sok Tour three pointer at that critical phase helped ease the pressure on the Heat and deep into the fourth quarter they had a commanding 16 point lead, which the Warriors found too hard to make up.
The Dragons made it a start to finish affair on the back of the solidity provided by Nabong and Chan. But the side also had an unlikely hero in the three point specialist Jerry Roxas, who raced to 22 points. The trio put Sela Meas out of stride and contention.
The much-touted Sela Meas defence was nowhere to be found in the first three quarters at the end of which the Dragons were sitting safe at 60-49. Sok Samnang squeezed out 10 points but he often found the big Chan as dour as a barn door.
Pheng Darath and Chan Phearom hustled the side back into the fight by whittling the Dragons lead down to 74-70 with a minute and 10 seconds to go. But in those demanding moments, a battle weary Sela Meas lapsed into errors and conceded turnovers, allowing Chan and Jeff Cruz crucial baskets that took Dragons safely home.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at firstname.lastname@example.org