A pulsatting, passionate and gritty performance from Shanghai Sharks was enough to give the home side an improbably victory of their guests, the Xinjiang Tigers.
The Sharks, coming into this game ravaged by injuries and plagued by bad luck, will have been thankful that former Shanghai coach Bob Donewald was the main talking point in the build up to the game. The American had refused to give interviews to avoid questions about his relationship (or lack thereof) with owner Yao Ming in the final days of Donewald’s tenure as the Sharks coach.
From the tip-off, the Sharks players were throwing themselves into every play with maximum intensity whilst the crowd cheered every basket like it was a buzzer beater. When Zhang Zhaoxu spun and swiveled past Mengke Baater before firing home his jump shot, the grizzled Xinjiang centre turned towards his bench with a wry smile amidst the noise. He, like everyone else in the Yuanshen knew this wasn’t going to be any normal game.
Yet Xinjiang were always on the cusp of being dangerous themselves and when the big guns of Kenyon Martin and Patty Mills fell silent, the Tigers were helped out by the sudden brilliance of Xu Guochong, who was scoring three-pointers with impunity. The forward would score five-of-his-six efforts from long-range as he made 16 points in the second quarter alone.
In contrast to Xinjiang, the Sharks were getting production out of all their roster and when a big play needed to be made, Shanghai were never short of willing volunteers. With seconds left on the clock, the Sharks gave themselves a 48-39 lead at the interval when Wang Yong found himself enough space on edge of the court to drain a nerveless three-pointer. Cue a halftime of pure noise.
Resuming after the break, Shanghai sudden realised what they were up against as Mills and Martin suddenly found their scoring touch and went after the Sharks with renewed gusto. The lead that the Sharks had earned vanished quickly and the home team looked like they had lost their sparkle.
A few minutes later, now into the fourth quarter, Meng Lingyuan picked the worst time to completely lose his bearings as he tried to leap over Mengke whilst attempting a lay-up. The towering centre gratefully accepted the chance to push away the youngster’s shot before Meng Duo duly scored on the break to give Xinjiang a 67-64 lead. Coach Panaggio was furious and made no attempt to hide his frustrations at Meng as the guard sat underneath the Xinjiang rim, still dazzled from the impact of Mengke’s block.
It could have been a decisive blow to the Sharks, but instead they fought on and managed to bring the score to 84-82 with ninety seconds. Soon afterwards, Liu Ziqiu scored his first points of the game with a looping shot that was level with the free-throw line and suddenly the match was tied with no room for error.
Remarkably, it was the Tigers that blinked first and having failed to convert their chance to score, the Sharks went down the other end and watched Forehan-Kelly weave around his marker and nudge a lay-up through the rim to make the score 86-84. Advantage Shanghai.
With the clock fading away, Martin failed to make his crucial shot and the game as a contest was done. Gu still had time to foul RFK and give the American a further two free-throws but victory belonged to Shanghai and when the buzzer came, it soon was drowned out by the cheers from a relieved crowd.
At the subsequent press conference, Donewald, who insisted on questions about the game and nothing else, conceded that costly turnovers and a passionate homecrowd had been the contributing factor in his side’s defeat. He slipped away from the cameras with a rueful look, no doubt annoyed he hadn’t been able to win in his old office. Panaggio, when asked about the significance of beating the previous Shanghai coach, was pragmatic, noting only that it was just another victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Harris made 20 points, RFK got 19 and Zhang picked up 12 in a gutsy team effort that defied the form book. The crowd, loud and ceaseless throught the game, was a big factor and Shanghai will hope to keep the positivity going in their upcoming match against Shanxi Dragons on Friday.