A determined, selfless Shanghai Sharks team outlasted JR Smith’s Zhejiang Bulls in a nail-biting 85-77 game that kept a packed Yuanshen crowd on the edge of their seats for the whole forty-eight minutes. Smith was obviously the focal point of the Bulls’ offense but the Sharks managed to marginalize him enough to ensure victory, while Shanghai’s own influential American, Mike Harris, stepped up with a colossal 31 point, 21 rebound, double-double to help the Sharks continue to chase a playoff spot.
The Sharks were burning the candle on both ends during the majority of the first half. Zhejiang were forceful and uncompromising on defense but also were also confident finishing their chances when going forward, particularly from close range. Marcus Landry and Mike Harris both took turns making sure that the home side could keep up with their guests but even so, a late flurry helped the Bulls ease into a 41-37 lead.
The effort of keeping Smith under control was obviously taking its toll. By the start of the fourth quarter, Liu Ziqui had already been withdrawn because he had picked up four fouls meaning Meng Lingyuan had his work cut out for him as he tried to contain the dangerous American (besides Smith’s shooting prowess, Meng also got a taste of the guard’s flailing elbows on more than one occasion). The Sharks’ policy of putting heavy pressure on Smith was also inviting the visitors to try their luck from down town, something that they did frequently, although only Ding Jinghui was having any success.
Having started to smother the Bulls’ main scoring outlet, the Sharks could now focus their attentions on opening up an unassailable lead. What Landry started, with a huge trey and then a booming dunk, was carried on by Harris’ one-man show in the Zhejiang paint. The former Houston Rocket was racking up the points at close quarters and with Meng dealing with Smith in the back court, the Sharks’ forward was completing the job at the other end.
When the buzzer sounded soon after Harris collected his final basket on a rebounded free-throw, the capacity crowd could celebrate another critical home victory in the Sharks’ race for the postseason. Harris had got his epic double-double whilst Landry picked up 24 points and Zhang Zhaoxu made 10. Smith scored 29 points but would have been more had it not been for the ferocious defending of Meng, whilst Ding got 14.
In his brief press conference, Coach Panaggio praised his side for their ‘hard fought, gritty win…[against] an opponent that came out well prepared and focused’, but equally singled out Meng for some choice words; ‘his defense was outstanding and critical to our win tonight’.
There is still a lot to do against Jiangsu, Beijing and Tianjin but another big scalp has been claimed on another very special night in the Yuanshen as the Sharks get closer and closer to their improbable postseason dream.