Master Tapsi and Smart Dragons will battle it out on Wednesday evening in the first contest of the Chitato Chips Mini Basketball Tournament’s three-game final series.
Unbeaten Master Tapsi and Dragons made it to the title showdown on Sunday night after getting the measure of MSGM and Extra Joss Fighters in closely contested semifinals at the Cambodian Country Club court.
The day began on a disappointing note when the Warriors failed to show up for their 5th-6th place playoff, letting Team Respeck win by default.
In the first semifinal, it fell on the shoulders of feared attackers Aimar Sabayo and Juano Cunnanan, in the company of Dong Menghamal, to keep Master Tapsi going in a 89-84 win over MSGM, for whom Pico and Hong Kwang combined well to put pressure on the only unbeaten side in the six-team league.
Tapsi’s first quarter lead of six points melted away in the second as MSGM drew level on 32.
Then Cunnanan (21) and Sabayo (24) stepped up the tempo as Tapsi again opened up a six-point lead.
But by the end of the first half, the sides were tied 32-32.
Cunnanan and Sabayo then inspired Tapsi to a 63-59 lead going into the crucial last 10 minutes of the game.
But Hong Kwang (31) and Pico (21) boldly stepped up for the Chinese-dominated MSGM to keep the side within two points of their rivals, causing speculation in the stands of overtime.
However, Cunnanan at the free-throw line eventually killed off any hopes of last-minute theatrics.
The two-time Cambodian Basketball League Most Valuable Player award winner drained both free throws to seal a five-point win for Tapsi.
It was a grudge match of sorts between the Dragons and Extra Joss Fighters, whose win last week in the round robin stage over their rivals had given them a slight psychological edge when the sides took to the court.
But the Dragons this time decided on a frontal attack. They led 19-14 in the first quarter and maintained their lead until the break.
Landon Buchanan (18) led the Dragons line, with Sean Lonney (17) often troubling the Fighters from the charge area.
While Fighters’ big man Ken Gadaffi (7) kept his opposite number Curran Hendry (1) at bay, the Fighters lost their offensive edge following an injury to David Sanders (2).
Nilo Candidato took charge to run and drive through the Dragons defence, but his 29 points were not good enough in the end to prevent Fighters trailing by as many as 10 points with five minutes on the clock in the final chapter.
Gadaffi stepped up in defence, setting up several comebacks and even made a basket of his own to pull his side to 79-80 with two minutes to go.
But as the Fighters rallied, Jeff Kane sunk a 3-pointer, and a foul from Candidato led to two more free-throw conversions as the Dragons stretched out to win 91-86.
Fighters and MSGM will now face off for third place on Sunday, before the start of the second game of the final series between Tapsi and Dragons.