The Sharks came remarkably close to overcoming the odds yet again but instead yet down in flames after a display of tenacious defending ultimately wasn’t enough to nullify JR Smith. The former Denver Nugget eventually managed to do enough damage to lead his side to victory over a Shanghai team that took Zhejiang Bulls all the way into overtime before the home side finished the game on top.
The first two quarters made it clear to anyone watching that this was not going to be pretty on the eye. Both teams rebounded hard and made the other work extremely hard for every basket. Austere defending would be an understatement and when halftime arrived, the Sharks were up 41-39 after playing an utterly selfless brand of basketball where every man played his part in a greater team effort.
Zhejiang had their chances but really didn’t seem to have the right tools to break down the no-nonsense defense they were running up against. However, as befitting a team with their hearts set on a championship, the Bulls could rely on their star player to eventually figure something out.
Enter JR Smith, who had been somewhat quieter than usual, but suddenly exploded in a flurry of action-packed dunks and clutch shooting. A four point lead for Shanghai was suddenly blown to pieces and the Bulls found their mojo roughly around the same time that the home crowd found their voice.
Suddenly the Sharks looked rattled as their hosts started to get into the groove of things. If only to illustrate the sudden lapse of concentration from Shanghai, deep into the fourth quarter, the previously excellent Zhang Zhaoxu first spilled the ball underneath the Bulls’ rim only to then loose his assignment when play reached the Sharks’ backcourt. Cao Fei calmly drilled in a three and the Sharks looked baffled.
Yet, this would not be a Shanghai away game without a valiant performance from Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who calmly led his side back into it once again. Down 77-73, firstly Zhang redeemed himself with two cooly take free throws before a questionable whistle at the other side of the court brought RFK himself to the free-throw line. Two clutch shots later, the game was tied and headed into overtime.
A tense five minutes went back and fourth until a fast break allowed space for Josh Boone to dash through and powerfully dunk the ball through the rim and put his team up 85-84. There would be time for both teams to score again but the writing was on the wall and when Mike Harris’ three-point effort from distance clipped the rim and bounced away, it was game over.
The Sharks now get back on the bus for their game with Jiangsu Dragons on Friday. RFK got 24 points and 13 rebounds but it was a team effort that almost took the Sharks to victory. It was an agonizing defeat that underlined the potential of the Sharks youngsters but ultimately the only stat that counts is who was winning at the final buzzer. Shanghai wasn’t. Close but no cigar, gents….