If there was ever a game that summed up the madness and drama of Chinese basketball, tonight was it. Shanghai got the victory- thanks to the uber-clutch Marcus Landry- but it was painfully close. However, what’s important now is that the boys from the Yuanshen are coming home with an 18-14 record before they return to north China to play the Shanxi Dragons in the first round of the playoffs.
The Sharks started brightly thanks to the force and fury of Landry and Zhang Zhaoxu, and the duo helped their side open up a double-digit lead early on in the game.
However, Zhang Nan, a surprise choice for the CBA All-Star game, showed his critics what all the hype was over and he set about getting his side back in the game with some deft shooting, and when halftime had rolled by, the forward had gone from being a pest to blossoming into an all-out menace with his mid-range finishing.
The Lions, sensing they were onto something, gladly let their improbable All-Star drag them back into the game and then into a 50-46 lead as Shanghai, suddenly realising that they were getting sucked into a street fight, could only look on in horror.
Zhang was just as influential in the second half but now had Herve Lamizana to help him out in the chaos, and the pacey Ivorian forward’s strength and passion was an additional problem for the Sharks to contend with as they tried to haul themselves back in the game.
Yet this was all easier said than done. There were huge contributions from all over the Sharks roster- Zhang Zhaoxu was still chipping in with lay-ups and blocks, Liu Wei and Liu Ziqiu were dropping in jump shots and Landry and Mike Harris were forever crafting baskets out of the merest of chances- but Tianjin were still holding firm.
As the game drifted into the final moments, the Sharks, having been down by around five points for most of the final quarter, suddenly burst into life and a splurge of well-taken opportunities brought Shanghai within a trey of the lead and Landry, lurking unmarked on the far left of the perimeter, had one more big shot left in the locker. Taking a couple of seconds to compose himself, the former New York Knick then dispatched his effort from downtown to give the Sharks an 86-85 lead with barely thirty seconds left.
When Zhang Nan failed his own moment of truth, the Lions had to give away cheap visits to the free-throw line to get the ball back. Harris converted both of his shots while Meng Lingyuan polished off his second effort and the Sharks were 89-85 winners at the death. Zhang Nan and Lamizana both helped themselves to 22 points whilst Landry got 21 for Shanghai. Zhang Zhaoxu (19), Liu Wei (13), Harris (12) and Liu Ziqiu (11), also made double-digit hauls.
The Sharks will now take a well-earned break before starting their postseason campaign against the Dragons, while those Shanghai supporters who watched the game can try and get their voices back from the collective roar of euphoria that came when Landry sunk the decisive three.