Despite a furious fight back in the final stages of the game, the Shanghai Sharks fell to their hosts, 99-95, meaning that Shanxi are now a game away from the playoff semi-finals. The Dragons owe tonight’s win to Charles Gaines, who emerged from the shadow of Marcus Williams to illustrate how important he was to Shanxi’s championship aspirations. The no-nonsense forward was a willing battering ram for the home side, who had to hold on for dear life in the dying seconds of the game whilst Shanghai, for the second successive game, just didn’t have the rub of the green that could have otherwise gifted them victory.
Daniel Panaggio had earlier promised that his side would come out swinging and the Sharks helped their coach keep his word with a gritty, clinical performance in the first quarter that had Shanxi rocking on their heels. Marcus Landry and Zhang Zhaoxu were large and in charge during their early dealings with the Dragons defence and helped the visitors get into a double-digit lead within the opening twelve minutes.
However, the introduction of Gaines changed all of this and the veteran American was a dominant force whenever he got close to the rim. Suddenly galvanized, the once flagging Dragons found their feet again and gradually took back the lead from their guests before halftime.
Having looked a little lost in the first half, Williams was also back to his normal self after the interval and fired home a couple of dainty treys on the odd occasion when Gaines wasn’t rampaging around in the paint as the third quarter was dominated by the home side.
Yet, for offensive fireworks from Shanxi, Shanghai were giving as good as they got and with Yao Ming watching from the stands, the Sharks were slowly getting back into the game thanks to the persistence and cool finishing of Zhang, Landry and Mike Harris.
Eventually, with barely two minutes left on the clock, Shanghai got themselves within a basket of tying the game and the Dragons were staying ahead of their guests only through some generous calls from the officials. The game went back and fourth until, with less than twenty seconds on the clock and Shanxi leading 96-95, Gaines, who had been the Dragons most dependable player, missed a set of free-throws and suddenly things got really chaotic.
The Sharks, taking a time-out, restarted on the halfway line and whipped the ball over to Landry, who was creeping around by the Shanxi perimeter. With the game up for grabs, time seemed to stand still as the American’s shot hung in the air only to clip the front of the rim and bounce away to safety. Shanghai, desperate to get the ball back, fouled Pan Jiang and sent the guard to the free-throw line, where the Chinese converted his first attempt before scuffing the second one. Gaines, eager to finish the game on a high note, then acrobatically collected the rebound and whilst still in the air, forcefully jammed the ball home to the delight of the home crowd.
Gaines’ 31 points and 17 rebounds were critical in ensuring victory for the Dragons whilst his American team-mate, Williams, scored 28, and point guard Lu Xiaoming got 15. For the Sharks, Landry stood out with a fantastic 31 point haul whilst Harris picked up a 20 point, 10 rebound double-double as Shanghai came close to snatching victory but must now win the next game between the two sides or their season is over.