The Shanghai Sharks’ season is over following defeat to the visiting Shanxi Dragons in a thrilling 121-114 shoot-out. Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines came good in crunch time for the guests, who capitalized on Shanghai’s disorientation in the fourth quarter and will now advance to the next phase of the CBA playoffs.
In front of a packed Yuanshen arena, the first half was tough stuff as both sides went flying out of the blocks to try and control the game. Marcus Williams (obviously) was a dangerous presence in the opening few minutes but was well marshalled by Liu Ziqui. However, it was a different story for Shanxi’s Chinese players, many of whom took their chances with a coolness not usually associated with those Dragons’ players who aren’t named Williams, Gaines or Duan Jiangpeng.
At the other end, Liu Wei was just as dynamic, and whether sinking shots from all around the court or dishing out sumptuous alley-oop passes to Zhang Zhaoxu, the Sharks’ skipper was keeping the home side on an equal footing with their guests. Shanxi led 54-52 at the halftime break but it wasn’t without its price as Yang Pengfei, and Bao Zhaobao had already got themselves in serious foul trouble as the Dragons tried to grind Shanghai down with brute strength and physicality.
Things reversed themselves quite quickly when the sides returned as Shanghai opened up a double-digit lead. Liu continued to keep the home crowd on their feet with his shooting and tidy passing and for while, it looked as if the Sharks were going to push on and open up their guests for further punishment. However, almost as soon as the Sharks had themselves a decent lead, Shanxi came back strongly with Gaines and Duan putting up enough points to level the scores at a time whilst Shanghai suddenly went through a dry patch in front of the basket.
The final quarter, that started with the scoreboard sitting at 85-85, quickly turned bad for Shanghai, who fell behind after Pan Jiang dropped a tidy trey and then Gaines punched in a lay-up in heavy traffic.
The Sharks were now frantically chasing the game and the growing number of missed free-throws were becoming an increasing problem for Shanghai, who badly needed to convert all the chances that came their way now that Shanxi were growing in confidence.
When a three from Williams made it 100-89 to the visitors with a little over five minutes left on the clock, things looked grim for the Sharks, whose season looked to be fading away rapidly although Liu wasn’t going to led the game slip away without a fight and his crisp bank shot gave him 30 points with four minutes left and the score at 105-98.
Sensing the playoffs were within touching distance, the visitors then began running down the clock. Defiant cries of ‘lets go Shanghai’ rang out from out the Yuanshen but it was too late for the Sharks, who had to repeatedly send Shanxi to the line to try to get the ball back.
In the closing seconds, Mike Harris was sent to the bench after losing his cool with the referees (albeit to the sounds of an ovation from the home fans) before Liu fired home the final shot of the game but neither incident mattered to the final outcome of the game, which was now clearly out of reach for the home team.
When the buzzer sounded, Shanxi quietly left the court to celebrate in their dressing room, leaving the Sharks to embark on their lap of honour now that the season was officially over. A visibly upset Liu acknowledged the applause from the crowd, as did Harris and Marcus Landry, who may well have played their final games for the Sharks.
Liu scored 32 points whilst Landry picked up 28 and Zhang got 18 in a gutsy, exhausting defeat. Shanxi will now play Beijing in the semi-finals thanks to the accuracy of Williams (35 points) and Duan (22) and the brute force of Gaines (28 points, 22 rebounds).