Anthony Johnson made sure his return would be a memorable one as he exploded for eight points in the final three minutes to help the Philippine Patriots beat the Chang Thailand Slammers, 54-48, and grab the solo lead in the AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) Season 2 Saturday in Bangkok, Thailand.
Hardly a factor in the first three quarters where he was held to just five points, Johnson rediscovered his deadly touch just in time as the RP Patriots rolled to their fourth straight win in as many outings.
The Slammers slipped to 3-1.
Johnson, who missed the team’s last two games due to hamstring injury, came through with the game’s biggest shot – a huge three-point – that enabled the Patriots to seize the lead for good, 45-43 with 3:36 left.
The shot turned out to be the push the RP Patriots needed as Egay Billones also made a clutch basket following a miscue by the Slammers for a 47-43 lead.
The Slammers, however, refused to give up the fight easily as they closed in at 45-47 on a basket by Filipino import Eric Canlas.
But the 6-foot-5 Johnson rose again to the occasion, hitting four straight points that gave the RP Patriots – co-owned by Mikee Romero of Harbour Centre and businessman Tony Boy Cojuangco – enough breathing room, 51-45, with 1:10 left to play.
“Our defense was working as planned but we just couldn’t convert our shots in the first three quarters,” said Patriots coach Louie Alas. “Good thing we strengthened our defense in the fourth quarter and our shots finally fell.”
Johnson, who incurred his injury during their 71-62 win over the Brunei Barracudas three weeks ago, finished with 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting along with five rebounds in 30 minutes of action.
With Johnson struggling early, 6-foot-10 Donald Little took the scoring cudgels to finish with 14 points aside from posting seven rebounds, three assists and five blocks while Billones chipped in 10 markers.
Little and Johnson also had a great defensive effort on Thailand import Jason Dixon as they held the former RP Patriot player to just 11 points and seven rebounds – the first time he failed to post a double-double performance.
The Patriots trailed by as many as eight points in the second quarter due to poor shooting.
“The difference is that we practically shut them down in the fourth and we made the shots that we couldn’t hit in the early goings,” said Alas.
RP PATRIOTS 54 — Little 14, Johnson 13, Billones 10, Ybanez 6, Salangsang 5, Cabatu 2, Jaime 2, Crisano 2, Sta Cruz 0, Fernandez 0, Llagas 0, Sta Maria 0.
THAILAND 48 — Pinitpatcharalert 13, Dixon 11, Piroon 5, Jantuma 5, Lertmalaiporn 5, Canlas 4, Baguion 3, Sillapapipat 2, Supachai 0.
Quarters: 6-13; 24-29; 35-38; 54-48.
(Ynares Sports Arena, Pasig City)
8 p.m. — RP Patriots vs Satria Muda BritAma