The city of Shanghai got exactly what it wanted this Christmas as it’s basketball team defeated the Beijing Ducks in a gritty, compelling match that saw both sides have their chances to win the game.
The first quarter was a tense clash between the Duck’s fluid, crisp offensive style and the more gritty Shanghai counterpart. Unable to play their natural game, the away side never really got going early on and the guile of Ryan Forehan-Kelly and brute force of Zhang Zhaoxu helped guide the Sharks to a 22-18 first quarter lead.
Somewhat riled, the Ducks players returned to the court with a more physical approach, particularly Randolph Morris and Stephon Marbury. Playing with this new hard edge, Beijing soon regained the lead thanks to cool shooting from Di Xiaochuan and Ji Zhe.
However, the game took on a controversial element later on when Marbury drove towards the Sharks basket during a fast break. Peng Fei, the only man back, jumped tamely to try to block the American’s lay up but was sent crashing to the ground by Marbury’s momentum.
The guard lay prone on the court for almost two minutes before being carted off on a stretcher and the Sharks, obviously deflated fell further behind as Marbury drilled a buzzer beater home to make the halftime score, 47-39.
With the atmosphere now incredibly charged, the two sides reemerged after the break for what would an explosive second half, kicked off in spectacular fashion by an exchange of huge dunks by Morris and Harris.
The third quarter itself was compelling viewing as the Ducks gradually took hold of the lead, although it never felt like the Sharks were in too much danger as the reliable finishing of Forehan Kelly, Liu Wei and Feng Tian kept things close.
As the game slipped deep into the final twelve minutes, the Sharks had gradually fought their way back from a seven point deficit thanks to the hot hands of the continually flawless Forehan Kelly.The game was finely balanced, although the crowd and the momentum were with Shanghai.
However, it was still going to take something special to ensure the victory for the Sharks, and Harris was happy to oblige as he effortlessly span away from his marker before charging to the rim and once again dunking with spectacular fury.
Another red-hot shot from downtown by Forehan Kelly and a tipped-in offensive rebound from Zhang made it 91-83 and suddenly the Ducks were in no-mans land with a minute-and-a-half to go.
There was still time for baskets from Marbury, Meng Lingyuan and a brace of free-throws by Liu but the penultimate minute had been the decisively blow for the Ducks, who left the court at the final buzzer, defeated by a 96-84 scoreline.
A spectacular victory for the Sharks saw the team cheered off the court by a passionate local crowd who truly got their money’s worth after a real battle of skill and toughness. Three players got themselves double-doubles; Forehan-Kelly (25 points; 13 rebounds), Harris (21 points; 13 rebounds) and Zhang (16 points; 13 rebounds), whilst Liu got 11 points and Feng got 10.
Coach Panagio, clearly delighted with the win, praised the sterling defensive work in the last two minutes as the key to victory and pointedly stated in his press conference about how his team is finally starting to believe in themselves. When a journalist asked what was the secret to the Sharks being ‘a good team killer’, Panaggio paused for a second before replying simply, ‘its because we’re a good team’.
A handful of wins away from being in play-off contention, now the Sharks have to prove Panaggio’s assertion right. Almost at the halfway mark in the season, the Sharks might just be something special after all.
Photo: Sina Sports