The Saigon Heat force Game 3 in the Finals of the 2023 ABL Invitational by riding on Evan
Gilyard’s performance of the ages to win, 88-70.
After being defeated by Hong Kong Eastern in Game 1 with the Hong Kong club playing to their
strengths of being a rock-solid defensive team, the Saigon Heat went aggressive to their
advantages: three-point shooting and Evan Gilyard.
Eastern had taken the lead early on to as much as 10 points in the first quarter and the
concerns for Saigon Heat’s campaign in the ABL Invitational started to buzz. However, just as
they had fought back against the Singapore Slingers in a similar position, being down in Game 1
and early in Game 2, the Heat fought back.
And, once again, leading the fight for the Heat was their hero, Evan Gilyard.
Gilyard had only 4 points in the first quarter but flipped the switch in the second internal and
kept his foot on the pedal. The flame-throwing guard started the quarter by knocking down two
quick threes and continued to pile on the scoring to end up with 15 of the Heat’s 19 points in
the quarter – highlighted by 4 three-pointers.
That ran gave the Saigon Heat the lead, the momentum, and, eventually, the win. Eastern
would only claim the lead one more time in the second half before the Heat continued to break
away onwards to a nearly 20-point win. They dominated the final quarter, just as they had
dominated the second quarter, finishing the game with 29-13 points in the last 10 minutes of
Aside from having a hard time in stopping Gilyard, Hong Kong Eastern also struggled to find the
bottom of the net. They shot only 36 percent from the field in this game and the biggest part of
that was being able to knock down only 9 of 41 three-point attempts. Chris McLaughlin had the
most productive performance for the team with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Meanwhile, Tonny Tochra Morelos added in 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal.
For the Heat, Gilyard is the hero once again with 41 on 10 three-pointers. In the history of ABL
competitions, only Matthew Wright (KL Dragons vs Hitech Bangkok City – February 17, 2016)
and Torian Graham (Saigon Heat vs Zhuhai Wolf Warriors – January 16, 2020) have been able to
knock down as many three-pointers in one game, with Gilyard being the only one to do so in a
Playoffs and Finals game. Gilyard, however, took one more attempt than both Graham and
Wright, but he will enjoy the fact that it came on a bigger stage of the competition.
Not to be overlooked as well are the performances of the big bodies, Jeremy Combs and Hasan
Thomas. Combs flirted with a triple-double again with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 3
steals, while Thomas recorded 12 points and 7 rebounds in this game.
With the Finals now tied at 1-1, both teams shall get one day of rest before facing off again at
Nguyen Du Stadium for one final game on Tuesday, March 14. They will leave it all out on the
floor, because either way, this will be the end of their season. Whether they get to celebrate at
the final buzzer or not, we’ll have to tune in and find out.