The long-awaited Super Basketball League Championship Finals get underway this evening with top seeds Pure Youth Construction taking on the Dacin Tigers at the Sinjhuang Sports Complex in New Taipei City.
With the Builders enjoying a 4-1 mark against the Cats in their five regular-season meetings, with the lone loss coming at the start of the season, they will undoubtedly be the favorites to take the title.
Even though the Tigers might be outclassed statistically, they are known for defying the odds after they overcame a sluggish 1-4 finish in their final five regular-season contests to top runners-up Taiwan Beer in one of the most exciting semi-finals in league history.
“Anything can happen on a basketball court, so no one should count us out so soon,” Dacin head coach Huang Wan-long said earlier this week, after his troops beat the Brew Crew to qualify for the finals.
He is in line to be the first interim coach (after relieving former head coach Chiou Da-tsong in February) to win the title if he can pull off four wins against the Builders over the next 10 days.
Huang also has the hottest shooter around in Tien Lei, who poured in 36 points in the Tigers’ narrow victory over Taiwan Beer on Tuesday night as the three-time league MVP looks to add to his already impressive collection of awards with his second league title.
“It will be an exciting series for both teams, since we are playing with something to prove, while [Pure Youth Construction] are trying to win their first title,” Tien was quoted as saying in local media earlier this week.
His timely surge could be the difference for the Tigers in the best-of-seven post-season showdown.
Standing in his way are the Builders, who cruised past the Yulon Luxgens in five games to win their semi-final series by a 4-1 margin, giving them plenty of rest and time to prepare for the Cats.
Speaking of having something to prove, Pure Youth head coach Hsu Jin-tseh will have a chance to go head-to-head with his former mentor Huang, as the two former high-school coaching gurus meet in the professional game.
Hsu served as Huang’s assistant at Taipei’s Song Shan Senior High School back in 1995, before taking the head coaching job at Tsai Hsing Senior High School and turning Tsai Hsing into a powerhouse that won the HBL title four times.
Other than the showdown between the two coaches, the matchup between foreign stars Noel Felix of the Tigers and Quincy Davis of the Builders will also play a big part in the series, because the two teams will likely build their game plans around them.
Davis might have the edge against Felix with a stronger inside presence, but Felix has been rock solid for Huang, with a very accurate shooting from mid-range that will force Davis to guard him farther outside the paint than he is used to.
Last, but not least, will be the defensive scheme that Hsu implements against the Tigers’ Tien, who could break out on the floor anytime.
Hsu will likely use Doug Creighton for the tough task of blanketing Tien, since Creighton is the only player on the Builders’ squad who has the size and, more importantly, the speed to handle the Dacin star.
Tipoff in Game 1 is scheduled for 6pm this evening, with a good crowd expected as the fans look to cheer on their favorite team.