It was sweet revenge one season too late for the Emperors (formerly IRB the Lord) but nonetheless a gratifying 73-64 victory in their opening game of the Angkor Beer Cambodian Basketball League campaign at the Olympic Stadium Indoor Arena on Saturday against arch rivals Davies Paints (previously Alaxan FR Patriots).
In the day’s second fixture, Mekong Tigers mauled Extra Joss Fighters 84-66.
The Patriots had put the Lords to the sword in last year’s grand final, but with the two reappearing in new names and reinforced rosters that script was flipped around by the Emperors, who resisted a strong fourth quarter fight back by the Patriots to get home without much anxiety in the end.
When two familiar foes are on court, tension is normally high and this game was no exception.
Paints got in without their key player Aimar Sabayo and that instantly put pressure on Dexter Arcenas and John Cornito.
However the duo coped well with the situation, helping each other click with a few mid-range shots in the first quarter which saw Now Chour and Chao Pohors grab a slight advantage for the Emperors.
After coming one point worse off from the first 10 minutes, Paints faded a bit in the last few minutes of the second quarter.
An elbow check by Chour on Arcenas let off some hot air on the court and, as if to rub salt on that Paints wound, Chour caught a missed free throw and scored under the rim to give the Emperors their biggest lead till then at 32-24, with the quarter itself ending 35-27.
As tensions mounted in the early third quarter, both sides missed easy shots and Paints could only snatch three points from the first five minutes allowing the Emperors to slip away to a 10-point advantage, despite their star player Monh Ratana resting on the bench after suffering from cramps.
Paints cut half of the Emperors lead and whittled it down to a mere basket in quick time, though Chour was doing his best to contain the rush.
But with less than four minutes to go and Nigel Doughan leading the Paints charge, the sides drew level at 56 prompting the Emperors to call timeout to arrest the Paints momentum and seek out injured Monh Ratana back to action.
He delivered a three-pointer to ease the pressure somewhat, even as the Paints suffered twin blows in the form of both Arcenas and Doughan being fouled out of the game.
Paints’ attempt to resort to full-court pressure brought no relief as the Emperors worked their way to some easy late baskets.
Mekong Tigers endured a third-quarter shock of falling behind 40-46 before finishing off with a 24-5 fourth-quarter flourish.
The Fighters put up an improved show, cutting down on the wasteful turnovers they conceded in their opening game against Pate 310, but the effort was still not good enough to stall the Tigers.
The first blow for the Fighters had been dealt even before they lined up. Their top scorer last week, Gabriel Humphrey, bid goodbye to Cambodia in pursuit of his studies in the United States, and his absence was sorely felt.
Some sloppy passing and shoddy work under the rim contrived to slow the Tigers down a notch though they managed to lead 20-14 at the end of the first quarter and the Fighters did well in the second to keep the scores tight.
At the start of the third, the Fighters were beginning to grow in confidence as they benefited from several Tigers turnovers. Midway through the session they even led by six points, much to their rivals chagrin.
However, the Tigers regained the initiative in the fourth quarter with Pheng Dararithy excelling from the three-point line and Sok Samnang producing a slew of fast breaks for a 24-5 romp that buffeted their winning margin.
Emperors 73 (Now Chour 28, Monh Ratana 13) Davies Paints 64 (John Cornito 15, Nigel Doughan 12, Dexter Arcenas 8)
Mekong Tigers 84 (Sok Samnang 25, Pheng Dararath 20, Pheng Dararithy 11) Extra Joss Fighters 66 (Cortez 19, Pansoy 18)