Shanghai’s season ended like it started- with a blow-out defeat to a team with championship ambitions as Gilbert Arenas watched it all happen from the bench. A campaign that was defined by injuries eventually (some would say mercifully) came to a close after a Liaoning team led by its vibrant backcourt duo of Josh Akognon and Guo Ailun tore the home side to pieces.
With Liu Wei also out with injury, two-fifths of Shanghai’s starting five were watching the game in street clothes and outmatched from the beginning, the Jaguars poured forward in numbers. Zhang Zhaoxu and DJ White did well to hold down the fort in the paint as Li Xiaoxu,-who will be headed to the All-Star game next week- was contained as well as he could be.
However, out by the perimeter, trouble was looming and Guo’s trickery was undressing the Sharks time and time again. The young point guard- another Liaoning player elected to the All-Star game- was looking good for a triple-double before he went down in pain with 5:03 left in the game. The Sharks fans did themselves no favours by jeering and heckling the guard as he was carried off the court in obvious pain but the heir to Liu Wei’s place in the national team had done enough to put the game out of reach.
There were still moments for Shanghai to be pleased about. White’s towering dunk to ease him into double figures was a suitable goodbye to the home crowd whilst Zhang’s defiant stand against the Liaoning frontcourt was a tantalising glimpse of what could have been had the big man started the season with the same amount of passion as he’d finished it with.
In the end though, the mistakes that cost the Sharks were the same as they ever had been. Turnovers, missed assignments on defence and some awful decision making at key points in the game. This, plus their two best players sitting in the stands, made the result a formality.
As the buzzer sounded, loud chants of ‘we are Shanghai’ echoed around the arena- a reminder that the Sharks have a passionate fanbase to make things up to next season.
Arenas is unlikely to be back while White must have done enough to get some looks from the NBA. Liu may also not return given that he has missed a third of the season with injuries and he surely can’t be relied upon now he is getting on in years. These are strange times for Shanghai, who a year on from making the playoffs and having a league-best defence are now destined to play next season with a third foreigner as a result of being one of the five worst teams in Chinese basketball.