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Dragons Move On Despite Feisty Effort From Heat

“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”

― L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

The fairy tale season of the Saigon Heat, with the high of making the playoffs for the first time in team history to the low point following the passing of beloved coach Jason Rabedeaux, has come to an end.

The Westports Malaysia Dragons came into the playoffs as the top seed for good reason, with a variety of weapons that the fourth-place Heat couldn’t overcome. Having already lost in Kuala Lumpur, the Vietnam side came out on the losing end of an entertaining 102-92 before a sea of red-clad fans at Canadian International School in District 7.Relishing the role of super-villain, Malaysia’s Avery Scharer got under the skin of the home team, but was able to back it up. Scharer was tremendous with a triple-double, including 17 points, 11 rebounds and an astounding 18 assists. Teammate Justin Knox added 29 points and 11 rebounds for his own double-double. For the Heat, Filipino star Leo Avenido displayed his never-say-die attitude with a 30-point performance, including a remarkable eight-for-10 from three-point territory. American Justin Williams registered 27 points and 17 rebounds in the losing effort.

Scharer got in the face of the Heat’s other Filipino gunslinger Froilan Baguion, leading eventually to a double-foul with the players needing to be separated. Scharer drew jeers from the crowd when he hit the floor later in the fourth quarter, only to drain a three-pointer to their chagrin.

The Heat were ahead 50-42 at halftime, shooting the lights out in the early going, but went cold when the Dragons embarked on a 26-8 run rounding out the third and starting the fourth. There were fouls aplenty from both sides, with Saigon’s David Arnold and Malaysia’s Moala Del Valle Tautuaa both fouling out in the fourth.

Heat coach Tony Garbelotto praised the efforts of his troops, acknowledging Jason Rabedeaux’s role in assembling the first squad to lead a Vietnamese franchise into the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) postseason for the first time ever.

“I wish (Rabedeaux) was here, he would have been proud,” he said, but admitted Malaysia is almost unstoppable when they get rolling.

“They’re so talented, they’re our kryptonite,” he said. “They scored too manye asy baskets. We just stopped trusting each other.”

Garbelotto said he’d discuss the “rollercoaster season” with GM Connor Nguyen before he could confirm what the future holds for the team at the head coach position.

Former UCLA Bruin Dijon Thompson, a former draft pick of the NBA’s New York Knicks, was thrust into a starting role following an injury to forward Dustin Scott and was playing his first home game in what would be the franchise’s last contest of the year. Awash in red and at times deafening, the fans never gave up on the Heat, in what was one of the loudest games one could attend in any league.

“Right now I’d be sleeping in L.A.,” Thompson said, still suffering from jet lag but still able to net 16 points. “We all got tired playing.

“(But) I didn’t anticipate a crowd like this.”

And while the Heat were swept in a best-of-three series, everything has to start somewhere.

Fllow Harry Hodge on Twitter: @hodgedude.

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