P. LEAGUE+ & T1 LEAGUE/Ex-NBA All-Star Dwight Howard stars in winning T1 LEAGUE debut
Taoyuan, Nov. 19 (CNA) Former NBA star Dwight Howard fell just short of a triple double in leading the Taoyuan Leopards to a pulsating comeback win Saturday in their T1 LEAGUE home opener in front of a sellout home crowd.
Howard had 38 points, 25 rebounds, and nine assists as the Leopards came from behind and top the New Taipei CTBC DEA 120-115 in front of more than 15,000 fans at National Taiwan Sport University's multipurpose arena.
"It's my first game in a long time where I've got a chance to shoot the ball, get to touch it and stuff like that. I really appreciate my coach and the rest of my teammates for just trusting me," Howard said.
"The first game was a little nervous, just wanted to make sure I got a lot of shots up and was aggressive, and my teammates trusted me, but I also trusted them," he said.
The T1 LEAGUE plays a much more up-tempo style than the NBA, and he will have to learn to keep up with the pace, Howard said.
Though the Leopards trailed most of the game, the home fans never got down and cheered for Howard whenever he was on the court.
"There's always four quarters in a game, no matter what's going on. You always have a chance to come back and win if you just stick together and believe. And in the second half we believed we were going to come back and win the game," Howard said.
Among those watching was Taiwan national team head coach Charlie Parker, who loved the energy for Howard's Taiwan debut.
"The excitement in this building, the enthusiasm of the crowd, the anticipation of seeing a great player like Dwight Howard, and all the fans, this is exciting for me," Parker said.
Despite Howard's presence, the DEA seemed to have control of the game, taking a 40-28 lead after the first quarter and widening it to 72-51 at halftime behind 33 points by DEA small forward Mohammad Al Bachir Gadiaga, known to local fans as "Abbasi" (阿巴西).
The Leopards rallied in the second half, pulling back to within 91-79 at the end of the third quarter, and then clamping down at the defensive end to tie the game at 105-105 in regulation to force overtime.
In overtime, the DEA's offense that started to go cold in the fourth quarter when they were 6-19 from the floor extended into the extra five-minute period, netting them only three points in the first four minutes as the Leopards built up a 115-108 lead.
Abbasi hit a layup in the final minute to pull the DEA to within 115-110, but a basket with 26 seconds left by Lo Chen-feng (羅振峰) on a long pass from Tony Williams put the Leopards back up by seven and sealed the win.
Lo was the star in overtime for the Leopards with eight points.
Abbasi led all scorers with 51 points and also had five rebounds and three assists.
With the win, the Leopards evened their record at 1-1 record, while the DEA fell to 3-2, dropping them from the top of the T1 LEAGUE standings to second.
The Leopards will next host the Taichung Suns at National Taiwan Sport University's multipurpose arena on Sunday, while the DEA will be on the road to face the defending champion Kaohsiung Aquas at Kaohsiung Arena on Nov. 26.
Howard, who will turn 37 in December, was the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft, and went on to become an eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year. He also won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2019-2020 season.
Also on Saturday, in the P. LEAGUE+, Taiwan's other professional basketball league, the New Taipei Kings defeated the Formosa Taishin Dreamers 101-89, while the Hsinchu Jko Lioneers edged the Kaohsiung 17LIVE Steelers 89-83.
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