Little love was lost in the Valentine’s day edition of the 2023 ABL Invitational games with
Zamboanga keeping themselves in the playoffs race and NS Matrix getting back on track.
It was a fight for their playoff lives as Zamboanga eked out a win, 71-65, in this grudge match
against Hong Kong Eastern.
Zamboanga controlled the lead for nearly the entire first half, building up to as much as 10
points, which might have lured their fans into thinking this was going to be a cruise to the end.
However, it was far from over as Hong Kong Eastern came out of the locker room and erupted
for a 15-point unanswered run to take control of the lead in the second half.
Oliver Xu put Eastern up by as much as 9 points early in the fourth quarter, but ABL veterans
Rudy Lingganay and Renaldo Balkman had something else in mind. The two combined for a 9-0
run over the span of 4 minutes to take the lead for good.
Balkman continued to be a force to be reckoned with, ending this game with 27 points, 14
rebounds, 2 blocks, and 4 steals while Lingganay added 10 points of his own. Zamboanga had
Mario Chalmers back in action in this game and he responded with 11 points, 4 assists, and 4
rebounds, though he only shot 1-15 from the floor in this game.
Eastern got big games from Dominic Gilbert (18 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists) and Chris
McLaughlin (22 points, 14 rebounds, 10-14 field goal shooting), though turnovers and their
inability to connect on their long-range shots led to their downfall.
Valientes now improve to 7-6 after two straight wins and have one more game left on the
schedule – against the 8-4 Singapore Slingers. That final game could potentially end up being a
do-or-die match to decide a playoff spot, depending on the result of the Slingers’ next game
against the Saigon Heat, among other factors.
Hong Kong Eastern start their run through the Vietnam circuit with a loss and have two more
games left. They only need one more win to clinch a playoff spot and it might be better to have
that locked in sooner than later to relieve the pressure.
The second game of the day might not have had much of an impact in the upcoming playoffs,
but it did see NS Matrix Malaysia escape the gritty Bangkok Tigers, 96-86.
The Malaysian club trailed during some points of the game, but by and large were in control
over their Thai counterparts. They were impressive on offense, shooting 50 percent from the
field and making all of their 12 free-throw attempts in the winning effort.
Five played scored in double-digits for NS Matrix including Isaiah Williams (23 points on 9-15
shooting off the bench), Wong Yi Hou (20 points), Tevin Glass (18 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists,
2 steals, and 2 blocks), Ting Chun Hong (12 points), and Kuek Tian Yuan (10 points).
The Bangkok Tigers also enjoyed seeing five played in double-digit scoring from Augustus Stone
Jr. (26 points), Kittitep Dasom (19 points), William Freeman (11 points), Jose Nouchanthavong
(11 points), and Noppachai Thongpool (10 points).
The win makes NS Matrix Malaysia the first team to reach 10 wins in the ABL Invitational with
the possible distinction of being the only team to do so as well. They are now one win away
from clinching the first seed in the playoffs with one game left.
That game will be on February 16 when they go up against Hong Kong Eastern. With NS Matrix
looking for one win to clinch the top seed and Hong Kong Eastern looking to lock up a playoff
spot with one victory, expect sparks to fly.
Zamboanga Valientes will also play on February 16 in the aforementioned potential big clash
against the Singapore Slingers.
The Bangkok Tigers, in the meanwhile, will be waiting to play their last game on the last day of
the circuit on February 17 against Hong Kong Eastern.