My apologies for taking over a week to get this post up. I'm back in Taiwan now, so posts should be more frequent and consistent.
The Miri Firehorse taking the title in their first season in the NBL in what ended up being a very controversial final game. True to form the referees exerted control over the game early, calling lots of fouls early. This affected Perak most as star import Chris Kuete had to sit early with three fouls. Anthony Johnson stepped in and proved to be the star again for Miri as he took advantage of Kuete's absence to draw numerous fouls and get to the line 13 times during the game. Johnson ended with a team-high 23 points and 15 rebounds.
Perak was able to storm back in the end behind the inspired play of import Gaston Essengue who tallied a game-high 33 points to go along with 10 boards. Miri ran into trouble late in the game after Michael Pilgrim (15 and 10) fouled out leaving the lane unprotected. With less than a minute left Perak held a one point advantage, but Johnson was able to attack and get the foul call one last time. He sank the free throws and sealed the victory for the upstart Miri squad. It should also be noted that Miri received a standout performance from local player, Chze Hian Chai in the finals. Chze scored 22 points including 4/5 from downtown. Perak's imports outscored Miri's 51 to 38, but Miri's local players stepped up to score 36 as opposed to the paltry 22 contributed by the rest of the Perak squad. In the end, the team with the best performance from local players took home the title (not to brag, but I called that in my first post about the NBL).
Following the league this year was more fun than in years past as the league improved their website and reporting of the games. Some form of TV or streaming coverage would have been nice, but at least scores and stats were updated consistently and accurately.
Looking back on the season there are four points that stick out in my mind.
1) Anthony Johnson can score. I have followed him play in three different leagues in three different countries and he has been consistent in his ability to score. Johnson will continue to be able to make a living playing ball in Asia because he can put points on the board from all over the court.
2) Gaston Essengue was the big winner of the NBL Malaysia season. The Cameroonian native who played college ball at UNLV was a complete unknown to me before this season. But his huge scoring output in some of the most crucial games of the season will serve him well in the future. Just as Chris Kuete and Alex Hartman turned strong showings in the NBL into other gigs, Essengue should be able to find someone else in Asia who can use his talents.
3) There is a market for basketball in Malaysia. The sold-out crowd of 2,500 people at the Final is further proof that there are people who enjoy the game, and are willing to support local teams and players. The challenge Malaysia faces is finding a way for the Malay and Indian populations to care about the game more, as basketball is predominantly a Chinese-Malaysian sport at this point in time.
4) In somewhat sad and sudden news, the NBL announced they would no longer run the professional league next season. The Malaysian Basketball Association (MABA) will meet on August 6th to discuss the future plans for professional basketball in Malaysia. The key for MABA is to find consistent partners and advertising so that they can keep teams in the league for the long term, and attract new teams. While there are basketball fans in Malaysia, building fan loyalty when the teams in the league change each season is impossible. Hopefully MABA will take this opportunity to evaluate the product and