It was a long time in coming but the decision to sign Gilbert Arenas and pair him with Liu Wei was finally justified as the two dismantled a dangerous Xinjiang team- but only just. Arenas scored 37 points whilst Liu almost picked-up a triple-double as the backcourt that was supposed to be amongst the best in Chinese basketball belatedly announced its arrival to the party.
Arenas, forty-eight hours after flying back into Shanghai from America, needed a couple of minutes to find his range but once he got going, there was no stopping the former NBA All-Star. Whether it was dead centre treys, fade away jumpers or bank shots from a tight angle, Agent Zero was dispatching his opportunities with relish.
Equally injury prone this season, Liu, who scored twelve of his team’s first twenty-one points, was also keen to make a statement. Two buzzer beaters at the end of the second and third quarters probably helped.
That said, the duo needed to play as well as they did because the visitors were never entirely out of the game. Five different Xinjiang players made it into double figures on the night and the Tigers’ own potent backcourt of Xirijian and Von Wafer kept the hosts on their toes all night.
Mistakes from other Shanghai players were also making home fans nervous. A wide open Meng Lingyuan dropped a Liu pass because he wasn’t expecting it whilst Zhang Zhaoxu slapped an Arenas rebound out of the American’s hand and allowed the Tigers to make it a two basket game with a little over five minutes on the clock.
When Zhang then threw the ball over the head of the nearest Sharks player and out off the court with the score at 104-101 and 32.4 seconds on the clock, things looked got even more antsy. A spilt defensive rebound later, Xirijian had dropped in a three from the corner and suddenly every fan cheering for Shanghai fell quiet.
Already missing DJ White, who failed to return to the court after halftime, it was obvious that one of the Sharks’ veteran guards was going to have to pull rank and help the Sharks get over the finishing line.
Right on cue, Liu immediately clamed the ball from the restart and made enough contact with a Tigers player to get himself a visit to the charity strip. Both free throws were dispatched. Finally broken, the Tigers didn’t have enough time to catch up as the Sharks captain fittingly closed out the game.
Liu, whose night ended with 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists didn’t even get the loudest cheer of the night. Arenas, who had chants of ‘MVP’ during his sensational third quarter, was roared off the court. It might not mean anything in the long term but for tonight at least, the Yuanshen was finally a loud, boisterous place to be.