The Saigon Heat gave it their all, but eventually, it was inevitable that Hong Kong Eastern ended
up as champions of the 2023 ABL Invitational.
In front of a packed crowd at Nguyen Du Stadium where fans came to witness the absolute final
game of the competition, Eastern disappointed the hometown fans of the Heat on their way to
winning, 73-60, and hoisting the trophy. The Saigon Heat has pushed the series to the brink, but
Eastern came away to win the series 2-1.
Hong Kong Eastern have now won two championships in ABL competitions with the previous
one coming in their debut season back in 2016-17 when they defeated the Singapore Slingers 3-
1 in the Finals. They also clinched the title on their opponents’ home court, just as they did now
again here in Vietnam.
The eventual champions came bursting out of the gates and after just 15 seconds into the
second quarter, their lead was already up to 27-9. Tonny Trocha Morelos knocked down three
three-pointers in the first quarter alone and Chris McLaughlin added in two dunks to emphasize
It seemed as if Hong Kong Eastern would run away for an easy win, but the Saigon Heat were
determined to not go down in this manner, even though they already had to overcome an early
hurdle as head coach Matt Van Pelt was unable to be at the game due to personal reasons.
Evan Gilyard led a surge towards the second half, eliciting flashbacks of his clutch performances
throughout the playoffs in the minds of the fans, and got the Heat to within 6 points early in the
Unfortunately, that would be as close as the Heat would get to Hong Kong Eastern as they
managed to hold on to their cushion to the final buzzer.
Gilyard finished the game with a strong performance of 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists
while Jeremy Combs and Hasan Thomas both finished identical lines of 13 points and 5
Eastern rode an energetic start from Tonny Trocha Morelos and he responded with an
outstanding game of 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 blocks. More or less, Hong Kong
Eastern played up to their usual standards which were why they were able to come away with
the win. Chris McLaughlin notched another double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds,
making it a perfect Finals of three double-doubles and 10 straight double-doubles to close out
For their performances, those two stars were also able to lock up two of the awards from the
competition. Chris McLaughlin, who averaged 12.3 rebounds per game during the Finals, was
named the Best Defensive Player of the 2023 ABL Invitational Finals. Tonny Trocha Morelos
wrapped up a fantastic series with averages of 18.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 2.3
blocks per contest, earning him the title of the 2023 ABL Invitational Finals MVP.
Joining in celebration with two of his best players, head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic was announced
as the Coach of the Year after leading his team through a steady and dominant run through the