Sometimes as a sports enthusiast, I’m reminded that sometimes its better to lose in a blow out than watch the game slip away right at the very end. Against Xinjiang, it was very much the latter as the Sharks fought hard and were full of pluck and spirit but ultimately lost to a Tigers side that for all their potency going forward, looked brittle at times, and dare I say it- were there for the taking at the critical moment.
The first half could best be described as ‘industrial’, as both sides bashed and crashed into each other, and defense was key in the opening twenty-four minutes. That said, Xiralijan Muhtar stood out for the home side and the guard was pinging away shots from all over the floor. Marcus Landry was just as mischievous for the Sharks, who despite the noise of the Hongshan Arena, didn’t seemed overawed by the venue or what was at stake if the visitors lost.
Returning after halftime with the score at 46-39 to Xinjiang, the two sides began to tone down the defensive approach and tried to move the scoreboard along instead. Both sets of Americans, Landry and Mike Harris for Shanghai and Tim Pickett and Gani Lawal for the Tigers, were heating up but the guests, to their credit, were getting value from their entire roster and everyone in a Sharks jersey seemed to be chipping in with a crucial basket or two.
Things were getting tense as the game drifted deep into the final quarter and it continued to look like it could be anyone’s game. The Sharks would fall behind and then come back and even took an 82-81 lead with just over a minute left. Then, just like that, Harris was banished to bench having fouled out and Mengke Bateer nervously converted his second free-throw following the foul that saw Harris check out of the game. Tied game.
When the Sharks failed to score on their next possession, Muhtar, free to shoot after a perfectly timed screen by Bateer, drilled home a trey from just outside the perimeter. A coolly taken lay-up by Zhang Zhaoxu made it 85-84 and Coach Panaggio stepped in to call a time-out with 17 seconds on the clock and the ball in the Sharks’ possession. Having played so well, this was going to be their moment, right?
Wrong. Two turnovers in successive players and the Sharks were gone. Lay-ups by Muhtar and Pickett had added an extra gloss to an otherwise super squeaky win for the Tigers. Shanghai didn’t deserve to lose like they did but that’s the breaks. Landry made a game high 20 points whilst Harris got 14 and Zhang, 10.
The Sharks will stay in the north of China but are off to face the Shanxi Dragons and the deadly duo of Charles Gaines and Marcus Williams on Friday. Having slipped out of the play-off places, this is obviously not the best place to go and try to get back into the mix…