One of Phnom Penh’s toughest basketball outfits, Extra Joss Fighters, determined to end their “finals hoodoo’’ which has seen them lose three showdowns in the last five years, went down 71-76 to Master Steak in the first game of the 2018 CCC Basketball Trophy on Sunday night.
Beaten by just one point by the Fighters during the regular round robin phase of this CCC summer event, Master Steak gained their revenge to take a giant step towards the title.
They need a win on October 14 in the second game of the three-game finals to clinch the deal.
In the more leisurely league phase and the playoffs, the Fighters had built an aura of invincibility, entering the title round with an all-win record. But that came crashing down despite the side putting up a stiff fight all the way.
A player of good standing from the Philippines, Aimar Sabayo, combining well with Janno Cunnaman, kept the fighters on the hop in the early stages but that intense first quarter also saw the youthful combination of the Humphery Gabriel (18) and Justin Alphonso (15) keep the Fighters going to get to five points behind their rivals.
Master Steak had a four-point lead at half-time largely due to veteran Gadaffi and his protege Gabriel doing good work in the heart of a 2-3 defensive set-up which reined in Sabayo and Cunnaman.
But Dong Menghmal and Saguil’s long rangers kept Master Steak ahead.
Dragons outsmart Bayon
Fighters coach Oktavianus Hauw opted for three big men, bringing KC Slam Duke, Gadaffi and Gabriel into the back three, with Alphonso and Rayson Ballestero on top.
It proved effective as Master Steak began to find it hard to drive through and had to resort to outside shooting, opening up chances for Fighters to make fast transition.
Even as the Fighters drew level at 58 points each, both Gadaffi and Slam Duke were heading for trouble with four personal fouls apiece, prompting the coach to take one of them off the court with seven minutes to run on the clock.
Master Steak took advantage of this gaping hole as their rivals presented them with no less than three turnovers in succession. Cunnaman (17) and Sabayo (20) relished these openings and Steak were back on top by seven points with three minutes left.
The rest was about holding on to the lead.
Earlier in the day, Smart Dragons outsmarted Bayon 86-65 in the fifth and sixth place playoffs, while Saiyan left it late before seeing off UYFC Siem Reap 61-57 to win the third and fourth place playoffs.