For now at least, normal service at the Yuanshen has been resumed as the Shanghai Sharks eased to victory over the Dongguan Leopards. Mike Harris returned to the line-up after the death of his brother and conjured up a sensation performance to help Shanghai beat their guests, 110-97. The Sharks keep their winning record going into the New Year break and now stand at 13-11 with eight games to go in the regular season.
Zhang Zhaoxu, having been publically scolded by Coach Panaggio for his lack of focus in the previous match against Guangdong, was keen to make amends this time around and got the crowd going early with a couple of huge dunks. With the normally dangerous Shavlik Randolph fluffing dunks and getting the full range of cat calls from the Yuanshen crowd, a nice shooting spell from Marcus Landry and then Harris helped the Sharks surge ahead 33-22 as Shanghai looked ruthless and full of confidence.
Harris, always a man for the big occasion, dominated the following twelve minutes and his quick hands and aggression were starting to cause real problems for the away side. Whether on the prowl for rebounds under the net or dispatching a jumpshot in heavy traffic, the American was in imperious form and began to open up the game for the home team. A tipped-in rebound just as the halftime buzzer sounded gave Harris twenty-one first-half points and the Sharks were up, 57-43.
The Sharks did well to weather the third quarter after a flurry of errors meant that the home crowd could never relax. Dongguan were raining down three pointers whenever the opportunity was there and Josh Akognon was looking forever menacing as he danced around the Sharks’ perimeter, either spraying the ball out onto the wing or unleashing a long-range volley of his own. All of this meant that the score was suddenly 77-71 as the game entered the final quarter and what had initially felt like a relaxed return to winning ways for Shanghai suddenly had an injection of drama.
Mercifully for every home fan in the vicinity, the fourth quarter was decidedly error-free. Although big shifts were needed to steady the ship, they duly arrive courtesy of Landry,Harris and Liu Wei. All three players dropped threes, drove to the basket at every opportunity and rarely missed an opportunity to polish off a jump shot. A seven single digit lead quickly changed to one closer to twenty points, and the Sharks began to ease off the gas with a good four minutes or so left to play.
A last-second substitution allowed Harris to get an ovation from the crowd, the coaching staff and the owner himself, Yao Ming as the game clocked faded to zero. The returning Sharks forward had picked up 38 points and 12 rebounds while Landry (24), Liu (18) and Liu Ziqui (14) also had themselves double-digit shooting nights. For Donguan, five Leopards players also got significant hauls; Akognon (24 points), Randolph (23), Qiu Biao (15), Qu Guan (11) and Zhang Kai (10).
In his press conference after the game, Panaggio was keen to congratulate Harris on his gutsy performance, noting that the forward had arrived back in Shanghai at around 3:30pm that day and had got himself to the game 30 minutes before the tip-off. ‘He just wanted to get back to his team’, added the Sharks coach, before revealing that Zhang had persuaded him to sub Harris off so that the American could get his ovation from the crowd.
Equally, Panaggio looked relieved to have got the victory to keep the Sharks in contention for a play-off spot but was also keen to stress that there was still several crucial games to come once the season restarts on January 29th. ‘I’m grateful to have won this game…but our job is still in front of us and it is a difficult one’.