Guangdong Tigers (1) vs Beijing Ducks (3)
Shit, as they say, is about to get very real. It only took three games for Beijing to walk straight through Jilin (and its also worth stressing that the starters were rested for the second half of the final game) whilst Guangdong needed four attempts to put a plucky but outmatched Dongguan to the sword. Ultimately though, things went as expected and the holders of the last combined eight CBA titles will now face off for the third time in the last four years.
As mentioned in the previous preview for the quarter-finals, Beijing will be coming into this with a 2-0 record during these encounters and there really is a sense of deja-vu about all of this. As ever, Guangdong will have the home field advantage and will be coming into the game as favorites. But, to use what is essentially a catchphrase I have used before; PLAYOFF MARBURY. Yes, its 2015 and Stephon Marbury is still a relevant thing and don’t Guangdong know it. The point guard has masterminded the Tigers downfall every time the teams have met in the play-offs since Marbury donned a Beijing jersey in 2011. There are several reasons for this but the general gist is that Marbury is a hugely experienced conductor of the pick and roll alongside Randolph Morris and the Ducks space the floor with excellent shooters as a safety net. Now though, with the rule changes to the fourth quarter, Beijing will have to choose between either Morris or Marbury playing in crunch time.
Right now, you have to take the latter both because of form but because Guangdong’s Yi Jianlian demands the attention of a proven big man or else he will run wild. Marbury was played sparingly in the quarter-finals and its unclear whether that’s because he was being saved for the looming Guangdong series or because the team has realized Morris needs the minutes to be ready for the Tigers. If Beijing do opt for Morris down the stretch, it makes for fascinating tactics from Ducks coach Min Lulei. One possible line of attack is loading up the backcourt with shooters like Sun Yue and Li Gen, space the floor and dump the ball inside to Morris and see how the Tigers respond to the best center in the CBA isolating his man down in the low-post. The same though could be said about the Tigers; who is going to handle Yi, who may well win the local MVP player title once again? Increasingly, in a game filled with shooters, this series may well come down to perimeter defense and which big man can score the most points.
Liaoning Jaguars (2) vs Qingdao Eagles (4)
The improbably Eagles team that won’t die is now hoping to win enough games to make it to their first ever CBA Finals. It seems remarkable to think that last season, Qingdao were the worst team in Chinese basketball with a 5-29 record. Now they are three wins away from the championship series.
What has made the Eagles go through such a radical transformation has been their foreign players. Former Utah player Mike Harris is a canny veteran that can be shifted back and forth across the forward positions during the game and still churn out a double-double. Justin Dentmon is one of the league’s best shooters. Hamed Haddadi, who the team was able to acquire under ‘the third foreigner’ rule, wherein bottom five teams from the previous year get a third Asian import, has been a one-man wrecking crew on defense. On offense, the Iranian is a tad more controllable but he is still a massive body that will find a way to score against the majority of opposing big men.
These foreign players are Qingdao’s greatest strength but now, will be also their team’s biggest weakness. In other words, up until this point, the Eagles local roster has not had to do too much other than rebound and bring the ball up the court. This series though, things might be a little different.
Indeed, Liaoning are loaded with regards to their local players. Point guard Guo Ailun, small forward He Tianju and center Han Dejun are a formidable spine for Liaoning that allow them to fill the remaining spots at shooting guard and power forward with specific types of imports. To add to this, Liaoning also bought wisely in the 2014 offseason. Lester Hudson remains the best foreign all-round guard player in the CBA and the Leopards will look to their experienced veteran to do most of the shooting. Deon Thomas, a hugely experienced Euroleague player, knows his role as second banana behind Hudson but is still giving Liaoning outrageous offense production in limited minutes.
Moreover, the difference between Liaoning and Qingdao is that the former have local players who can carry the load if their Americans get jammed up with the double team or find themselves sliding into a shooting funk. Guo (13.1ppg) He (11.9ppg) and Han (14.4ppg) will all be able to get it done if the ball comes their way. Yang Ming (6.6ppg) has seen his role in the team reduced substantially in recent years but he will also be able to give them some offense coming off the bench.
Basically, this surely has to be it for the Eagles. They have an extremely limited local roster and have played their foreign guys for huge periods to get this far. What are Qingdao going to do when it gets into the fourth quarter and they are only allowed one American plus their Asian third import’)? Liaoning are going to try to smother the foreign guys and dare Qingdao’s Chinese players to make their shots. So far at least, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.
Conclusion: Over the years, Liaoning have shot themselves in the foot but if they screw this up, everyone better change their phone numbers because people are going to be pissed. Their fans, the media, the team’s various sponsors. Also, I’ll be annoyed too, because I’ve been riding for them all season. And obviously, if there’s one demographic you want to appease, its entitled bloggers talking shit behind their laptops.