The Guangdong Tigers, the CBA’s dominant powerhouse for almost a decade flexed their muscles in a strong, methodical performance as they eventually nullified a feisty Shanghai Sharks team in Guangzhou. The gamble to rest overseas duo Terrence Williams and Ike Diogu for the first quarter paid off handsomely for the home side as the two imports made the most of their fresher legs to run riot at times over the visiting team.
Indeed, things looked ominous for the Sharks as early as the half-time interval after Guangdong outscored their guests 27-15 in a second quarter in which the Tigers showed a machine-like ruthlessness with the ball in their hands.
Having been helped on their way by the power and guile of Yi Jianlian, Guangdong were content to change things around by putting the ball in the hands of the 6”6, 220lbs Williams, who seemed to continually unsettle the Sharks backcourt and open up shooting opportunities for his teammates.
Diogu, whose playing style is more two-dimensional than Williams, favoured brute force over finesse and when the latter wasn’t using his athleticism to make buckets, the Nigerian power forward was getting it done two feet away from the rim.
Somewhat fittingly, the teams returned to the court after the half-time break to the Star Wars theme tune and it will not be difficult to guess how Guangdong fits into that analogy. Starting with the first play of the second half, the hosts- who have been in every CBA Finals since 2003- were unrelenting in their aggression and execution.
As the game went on and with Shanghai tiring, the uber-flashy Williams was beginning to put on a show and repeatedly looked to dunk on the nearest Sharks player. DJ White, less than impressed with the swagger of his fellow American, clashed with Williams during the third quarter but it ultimately was a brief moment of defiance from Shanghai in what was increasingly looking like a textbook example of how to close out a game by the Tigers.
To their credit, the Sharks were keeping the scoreboard ticking along but simply not as quickly as the hosts were.
Moreover, with little accuracy from beyond the arc (they shot 17% from three-point range on the night) and a very good low-post Guangdong defence infront of them, the Sharks lacked a trump card to stay level with the inspired pairing of Diogu and Williams.
In the end, the Tigers crossed the finishing line without ever really looking in danger as Diogu ended the game with 26 points and 10 rebounds whilst Williams had a 21/5/6 stat line for the night.
For Shanghai, Liu Wei kept up his MVP form with a 20 point, 12 rebound double-double, whilst White (27 points) and Liu Ziqui (20 points) also impressed. Gilbert Arenas, in his first game back for the Sharks since getting injured in late October, went for 5/7/7 but more importantly showed that he is completely recovered from his groin sprain by playing for over half the game.
With a three-day rest before their next game, the Sharks will now regroup in Shanghai. Having put in two good performances in consecutive road games, Daniel Panaggio’s men will be annoyed to have lost both fixtures but will now look to keep the intensity going for the arrival of the Fujian Sturgeons on Friday.
Tonight was a case of close but no cigar against a strong team with a very deep bench but a similar performance should be enough to overcome a weaker Fujian outfit. Regardless, the Sharks badly need wins to help them recover from their slow start so they will absolutely have to hit the ground running come Friday night.