This is it. After competing through four circuits for a total of 14 games each and one more Semi-
Finals series, we’re down to the last clash between the last two teams standing in the 2023 ABL
In a best-of-three series, this is everything that these two teams have been fighting for since
the start of the calendar year.
Saigon Heat vs Hong Kong Eastern.
Who you got?
How they got here
The Saigon Heat made their way through as the first seed at the end of the elimination round
with an impressive 11-3 record. They were the best three-point shooting team in the
competition and with the most volume among all teams. With the core four of Evan Gilyard,
Jarius Holder, Jeremy Combs, and Hasan Thomas, it was clear early on that the Saigon Heat
were one of the best teams in the competition.
However, it did take them a bit longer to claim their seat at the Finals. The Heat had concerns
about depth coming into the Playoffs and that was on display when they lost the first game of
the Semi-Finals to the Singapore Slingers with key players suffering foul trouble.
Still, those problems can quickly go away when a team has a player that shows time and again
that they can perform in the clutch and no other player has delivered in crunch time more than
the Heat’s star guard Evan Gilyard. In back-to-back elimination games, Gilyard took over in the
fourth quarter, both to force overtime and to clinch a victory, allowing the Heat to celebrate a
first-ever trip the Finals in franchise history.
Player to Watch
19.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists 1.6 steals per game
Could it be anyone else?
Gilyard scored 10 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 against the Slingers to force overtime
and, just to make it clear who the star in town was, dropped all of the Heat’s last 8 points on
their way to a historic win in franchise history in Game 3.
Even though, the dynamic guard shone for his scoring in the clutch, it was just as important
how he was able to be a facilitator earlier in the game, as highlighted by his 9 assists in Game 2.
Hong Kong Eastern
How they got here
It just seemed like business as usual for Hong Eastern, doesn’t it? While Eastern weren’t the top
seed, settling for a second seed with a 10-4 record, there wasn’t much reason to doubt along
the way that this team would be one of the top contenders for the 2023 ABL Invitational crown.
And here they are in the Finals.
The club has done a little bit of everything very well so far, but where they really shine is on
defense where they allow the least number of points among all teams in the competition.
Eastern’s core four of O’Darien Bassett, Chris McLaughlin, Tonny Trocha Morelos, and Dominic
Gilbert are strong, but it would be foolish to underestimate what the Xu brother Adam and
Oliver as well as veteran Chan Siu Wing brings to the table.
Eastern made their trip to the Finals look easy, but those who have been following the 2023
ABL Invitational know that it was not. NS Matrix Malaysia were a high-quality team that was
stacked with talent; it was just the Eastern were that good especially on the defensive end.
So now, Eastern are playing in the Finals once again, making it their second time in an ABL
competition since the 2016-17 ABL season. That year, led by Marcus Elliot and Tyler Lamb, the
Hong Kong club went all the way to hoist the trophy. Can they do it again?
Player to Watch
18.9 points, 14.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists per game, 59.9 FG%
McLaughlin has been on a rampage, going for 7 straight double-doubles with 13 in total for the
year. He scores with efficiency and rebounds at a high rate. That’s all that Eastern has asked
from him, and McLaughlin has delivered in a big way.
Heading into this Finals series, the two teams split their game through the elimination round.
Eastern won the first clash in Batam, 89-82, and the Heat later returned the favor 84-71 in
Malaysia. It might not have been battles down to the wire, but it has been a close battle
between the two very talented teams.
And that’s the least that should be expected when the sparks fly in the Finals.
Moreover, these two teams have a history with each other in the previous years as well.
They’ve played against each other a total of 11 games in previous ABL seasons, with Hong Kong
Eastern holding a 8-5 head-to-head advantage overall.
This will be a battle between the best of both worlds with the Saigon Heat excelling on the
offensive end and Hong Kong Eastern countering with their best defense in the competition.
Who will prevail?
Finals: Game 1 – March 11
5:00 PM (GMT +7) – Winner of SF1 vs Winner of SF2
Finals: Game 2 – March 12
5:00 PM (GMT +7) – Winner of SF2 vs Winner of SF1
Finals: Game 3 (If Necessary) – March 14
7:30 PM (GMT +7) – Winner of SF1 vs Winner of SF2