“I’d expect the Sharks to get a victory but equally I can already hear myself writing a “what-was-I-thinking?” introduction to this Sunday’s match report”- sharkfinhoops.com (November, 16th, 2011)
I had to say it, didn’t I?
An occasionally vibrant Shanghai side lost at the death in a game that the Sharks players will look back ruefully on as a missed opportunity to start their season in winning fashion.
On paper, facing Qingdao on the road is one of the easier way trips in the CBA schedule but the Sharks found their hosts to be unexpectantly determined for a side that is traditionally an also-ran in Chinese basketball.
The Eagles’ new American signing, Lester Hudson, was at the forefront of the Shandong side’s zesty behaviour on both sides of the court, putting up 29 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals by the time the final buzzer sounded.
The first game of a basketball season is never a sedate affair and the lead changed hands frequently in a first quarter where neither side was able to open up a significant lead. The first quarter finished tied at 17 points each as Shanghai rallied back from a seven point deficit largely thanks to the guile of Liu Wei and the muscular aggression of centre, Zhang Zhaoxu.
The second half was less even as Qingdao were quick to seize on any individual errors from the Sharks. Hudson in particular underlined the Eagles’ ruthlessness by intercepting a cross-court pass and returned the ball to the Sharks’ basket courtesy of a monstrous dunk that opened up an eleven point lead midway through the second quarter.
The Sharks were looking ill-at-ease with Coach Panaggio’s triangle offense and the hesitations continued to hinder their fluidity as they went in at half time six points down, 43-37.
Amidst the uncertainty, it was the old hands who kept Shanghai in the game after the break, and sharp shooting from the floor by Liu, Mike Harris and Ryan Kelly continued to give their side hope.
Hudson, however was still content to take the initiative for Qingdao and along with Li Gen, helped keep the Sharks at bay, as the Eagles maintained their six-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
The victory was up for grabs with the seconds ticking away in the final five minutes. Improbably, the Sharks veterans had finally dragged their team back from the brink, overcoming a ten point deficit with clutch shot after clutch shot, key rebound after key rebound, to get within a field goal of tying the game.
With an improbably comeback now within touching distance, the last two minutes were drenched in drama. Down by two points with the score at 80-78 and a minute-and-twenty seconds to go, Liu lost possession and his turnover was decisively punished by Hudson, who opened up a four point lead for his side. Kelly then struck back with a huge three to make it a one-point game, only for Harris to make another crucial shot and give the Sharks an 83-82 lead with less than twenty seconds left in the game.
Incredibly, the game wasn’t done; taking it back down the court, Hudson immediately nailed his chance to give the Eagles an 84-83 lead with eight seconds on the clock.
The game was on the line as Liu brought the ball outside the Eagles’ key as the seconds faded away. With no time to think, the Shanghai stalwart took on the responsibility to take the vital shot, only to have it blocked in heavy traffic and with that, time elapsed.
The cruellest of defeats was confirmed on Shanghai, who gave it their all but ultimately couldn’t stay on top against a Qingdao side that in Lester Hudson, had a player who simply would not let victory slip away.
Shanghai move onto another away game, this time against Shandong on Wednesday and will take heart from a determined, gritty performance but equally will be haunted by the manner in which victory finally escaped from their grasp.
The optimism of pre-season is dead. Long live regular season reality checks.