Strong Group was held to just two points in the last three minutes and absorbed a stinging 89-83 defeat to Dynamo of Lebanon in the 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship early Thursday, Feb. 2, at the Al Nasr Club Hall in Dubai, UAE.
The team of coach Charles Tiu led most part of the fourth period but just couldn’t hit the big shots in the end game as the Lebanese crew came away with the victory behind the timely baskets from import Cleanthony Early.
“It was a tough loss, led 60 percent of the game but fell short in the last few minutes,” said Tiu who pointed to Dynamo’s rock-solid defense as the reason for the team’s first defeat in four games at the close of the elims.
“Their zone really stifled us and slowed us down,” lamented Tiu.
With the loss, Strong Group, owned by Frank and Jacob Lao and backed by Mighty Sports and Acrocity, will face Al Riyadi – the same team Mighty Sports beat for the title three years ago – on Friday morning.
Al Riyadi, who finished third in Group B with 2-1 card, is bannered by several national team players led by Wael Arakji, Amir Saoud, Hayk Gyokchan and import and former NBA second round draft pick AJ Majok.
Dynamo’s zone defense also denied high scoring import Shabazz Muhammad his touches, that hastened the team’s downfall.
It was Early however who emerged as the biggest thorn to the side of the Filipinos, unleashing seven of his 29 points in the final three minutes where Dynamo uncorked an 11-2 finishing kick to steal the game away from the hands of Strong Group.
Early nailed six triples – none bigger than the last two he knocked down during that telling run. The first of those two shoved Dynamo ahead 82-81 and sparked the rally with 3:17 left before he buried the second one to stretch the lead to five, 86-81, and put the dagger to the hearts of the Filipinos with 48 seconds left in the clock.
Muhammad finished with 25 points and nine rebounds for the Filipinos who seemed to be a couple of baskets away from taking the fight out of Dynamo after keeping the Lebanese at bay for almost all throughout the final quarter.
Jerom Lastimosa, despite facing taller and heftier guards, impressed with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field while Nick Young, who is nursing a knee injury, added 11.
Renaldo Balkman, who was not feeling well, contributed 10 points and nine rebounds.