A nervy Shanghai Sharks held on to beat the Fujian Sturgeons after a flurry of clutch three pointers pulled the home side away from danger in the closing seconds of the game. Anthony Roberson was a constant menace for the visitors and lit up the Sharks at times in the second half. A commanding performance from Liu Wei and some gutsy three-pointers from Wang Yong were critical to giving the Sharks victory but this was a game that could have gone either way in the crucial stages but for once, the luck was with Shanghai.
After a frenetic series of exchanges at the start, the Sharks established control of the first quarter after a booming dunk from Marcus Landry and a big three from Wang knocked the wind out of the Sturgeons’ sails. The speed and directness of Tian Feng opened up space for the young point guard to extend the lead further and Shanghai’s intensity, underlined by Meng Lingyuan throwing himself over the sideline and through a group of cheerleaders in search of a loose ball, was proving decisive. The Sharks were soon leading 24-16 and save for Roberson’s accuracy from downtown, Fujian’s dangerous trio of overseas imports looked uninspired early on.
Yet having built up a lead, the home side then proceeded to take their foot off the pedal and dragged along by Roberson, the Sturgeons came storming back and it would take another two long-range specials from Wang and some storming blocks by Zhang Zhaoxu to help calm the Sharks’ nerves. Liu Wei eventually stepped up with some crisp shooting to help his side ease into the interval with a 49-35 lead whilst Lo Yi Ting got his comeuppance for a shocking flop earlier in the quarter when his careless pass went straight into the hands of Mike Harris, who strolled back down the court and powerfully slammed the ball through the rim.
Yet if the first half belonged to the Sharks, the second belonged to the visitors, whose vaunted trio of overseas threats began to ominously find their rhythm. With McDonald crashing around in the paint, Zaid Abbas pouncing on offensive rebounds and making jumpshots everytime he found space, and Roberson continuing to try his luck from distance (and often succeeding), suddenly the game wasn’t so easy for Shanghai.
It wasn’t as if the Sharks were playing poorly but rather that the Fujian offence was suddenly playing extremely well. Liu, Wang and Harris were taking their shots but the momentum was sliding towards the visitors and with two-and-a-bit minutes to play, another arching trey from Roberson sailed home and suddenly the score was 83-83.
The Sharks could have buckled but to their credit, didn’t. Instead, their key players showed their willingness to make the big shots when it counted. First, Liu made his three before Roberson again tied the game with his own effort from range. Then it was Harris’ turn to make a huge shot from distance before Roberson managed to score from a lay-up and suddenly the score was 89-88. Landry then stepped up and drilled in his own gutsy trey before McDonald dispatched a chance from close range that forced Coach Panaggio to call for a time-out with the scoreboard at 92-90 to the hosts, and with just over sixty seconds left to play.
With tight marking on all of the players to have fired home threes in the previous high-pressure exchanges, it fell to Liu Ziqiu to make the game safe, and the guard, having let the shot clock run down, weaved his way into the paint unopposed before laying the ball in off the back board to make it 94-90. A finally deflated Fujian blew their final shot and the buzzer sounded amidst the scramble for the loose ball.
Roberson scored a game high 39 points that included 7 three-pointers, whilst Abbas (17 points, 16 rebounds) and McDonald (17 points, 11 rebounds) got themselves double-doubles. For Shanghai, both Liu and Harris made 20 points, whilst Wang got 15, Landry scored 13 and Zhang Zhaoxu got 10 in an evening of high drama.
A relieved Panaggio was happy with a tight victory but knows that away games against Xinjiang and Shanxi are coming round the corner and that his side can’t relax for even a second. ‘I’m very happy with the win but we were somewhat lucky’, he noted in a concise press conference. With the squad still adjusting to the loss of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, the Sharks’ coach was also quick to praise a number of players who have stepped up since the forward injured himself in December, particularly Liu Ziqui, who had a strong defensive game and made the crucial shot to ensure victory for the Sharks; ‘we’re a better team when he’s playing at the level he’s at [right now]’. The Sharks’ will need all the big contributions they can get now that the post season is getting closer and closer.