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Fighters slay Dragons to claim second playoff spot

Extra Joss Fighters beat Smart Dragons to confirm the second playoff slot in the Chitato Chips Mini Basketball League on Sunday. Supplied
Extra Joss Fighters beat Smart Dragons to confirm the second playoff slot in the Chitato Chips Mini Basketball League on Sunday. Supplied

Fighters slay Dragons to claim second playoff spot

Extra Joss Fighters won the battle of the big men against Smart Dragons 75-69 to confirm the second playoff slot behind the runaway Master Tapsi, who extended their winning streak to five games.

Tapsi, however, were surprised no end when bottom of the pile Warriors ran them close in a 104-102 thriller in the Chitato Chips Mini Basketball League at the Cambodian Country Club court late on Sunday evening.

The first round of matches ended with all six teams playing for places in the playoffs. The day’s other winners included MSGM, who got past Team Respeck 67-53.

With Master Tapsi having clinched the top seeding and a place in the semifinals, it was left for the Fighters and Dragons to go at each other’s throats for the second semifinal ticket.

With the teams at similar strength, the contest evolved into a battle of the big men with action under the ring between the Fighters’ Ken Gadaffi and the Dragons’ Coran Hendry, with their personal rivalry playing out at critical phases.

Hendry hit eight points to Gadaffi’s five, but the Fighters were well served until the last quarter by their big man in defence before he was fouled out.

Dragons led after the first quarter 20-14, and at half-time their lead was cut to just two points.

Nilo Candidato (33) clawed the Fighters back as the two-time Cambodian Basketball League finalists took a slender 54-53 lead in the third quarter.

From that point, the Fighters opened up a six-point lead and held tight despite Sean Looney (17) and Ladon Buchanan ( 12) keeping the Dragons threatening a fightback.

Candidato deservedly won the MVP award for the third time in the tournament.

The early tip-off between MSGM and Team Respeck was keenly contested, with both sides aiming for a fourth place finish.

Respeck, coming off the back of their first win of the tournament, took the lead in the first quarter but were down by 14 points at half-time.

MSGM’s Hong Kwang (28) was inspirational as always for the predominantly Chinese side, who led 52-37 at the end of the third quarter.

Lim Johnson (13) stepped up in the fourth to make the score respectable for Respeck.

The final game between Master Tapsi and bottom placed Warriors ended in a thrilling 206-point game, with only two points separating them in the end.

Warriors started the game with only five players available, while Master Tapsi had four of their regulars off the court.

While Dong Menghamal sat out due to injury, Aimar Sabayo, Freddie Portrades and Jasper Serrano were rested.

Warriors welcomed the return of Ivan Musto, and the Italian brought some stability to the struggling side’s defence as they matched the tournament favourites point for point from start to finish.

Lowell Saguil took over scoring duty from Janno Cunanan with a tournament high 47 points, while promising Cambodian talent Hong Kidon matched him with 44 points of his own.

Tapsi led 28-20 in the first quarter, and by half-time they extended the lead to 59-46.

In the third quarter, Warriors fought back as Musto (11) made multiple defensive rebounds to set up Kidon on the run to bring the deficit to just five points.

The fourth quarter was a show of shooting and fast breaks from both sides, with Master Tapsi barely holding onto their narrow lead, but they managed to fend off a Warriors surge.

The playoff stage begins on Tuesday, with MSGM locking horns with Team Respeck, while Dragons take on Warriors the next day.

The winners of these two games will join Master Tapsi and Extra Joss Fighters in the semifinals, which are scheduled for March 18.

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