With the CBA Finals having been decided (more on that later), its probably worth checking in on what has been a pretty decent postseason so far in the CBA.
Shanghai Sharks (#3) vs. Shenzhen Leopards (#6)
It would obviously not be fair if we did not start by saying TOLD YA TOLD YA TOLD YA. After months of speculating that the Shanghai Sharks were paper tigers, I received more than one BYU fan inviting me to shove it amid a suggestion that the Sharks might not be so good once the play-offs got going. And so it came to pass that the third seed Sharks were eliminated on their home court by the Shenzhen Leopards, whose local roster were superior to Shanghai. It was a battle of inches and ultimately the team with the stronger local roster prevailed.
Guangdong Tigers (#2) vs. Sichuan (7th)
On the other side of the bracket, the top-seeded Guangdong Tigers made light work of a spunky but outgunned Sichuan Blue Whale roster. The outgoing CBA champs simply did not have enough local guys who could keep up with the Tigers’ veteran roster and were swept accordingly. Hamed Haddadi ruffled some feathers but that was as far as it went for Sichuan, who still did well to make the postseason given that they were playing with a weaker roster than the previous year.
Xinjiang Tigers (#1) vs. Shandong Bulls (#8)
The eternally cash-flush Xinjiang Tigers picked up a gentlemen’s sweep against the 7th seeded Shandong Bulls. Ding Yanyuhang had a barn storming 42 points in the first game as the Bulls took an unlikely series lead against the top seeded Xinjiang. But having started slowly, well-travelled American Darius Miles got white hot and averaged 26 points during the next three games. Shangdong continued to punch above their weight but Ding’s influence faded with each game as the Tigers’ expensively assembled roster slowly overwhelmed the underdogs.
Guangsha Lions (#4) vs. Liaoning Leopards (#5)
Finally, Guangsha continued their fine run of making the postseason and then being promptly eliminated in the opening round. Doing the honors this time around was the Liaoning Leopards, who let their backcourt duo of Lester Hudson and Guo Ailun take care of business. Despite a remarkable 41 points from Taiwanese shooter Liu Zheng in Game 2, the plucky Lions were once against bounced from the opening round of the play-offs in four games.
Xinjiang vs. Liaoning (Xinjiang won 4- 1)
In a series result that was surprising because a) Xinjiang looked very competent and b) Liaoning did not, the beaten CBA Finalists from the last two seasons got bounced in five games.
With Adams keeping his form going into the semi-finals (this time he averaged 30.8 ppg during the series), Xinjiang just needed someone to keep up with him on the offensive end. In Games 1 & 5, it was bouncy rim protector Zhou Qi and in Games 2 & 3, it was Andray Blatche. The Tigers bench unit of Blatche and Li Gen was also a clear issue for Liaoning as the series progressed. With scorers all across the court, the Leopards simply could not guard everyone and two opening blow-outs suggested things were going to get messy. Ultimately all of the Tigers wins were by double digits and if Adams got going quickly (tellingly, the only game Liaoning won was when the American guard scored just 8 points), so do did Xinjiang.
Where Liaoning go now remains to be seen. The sight of Zhao Jiwei (below) sobbing after being eliminated neatly sums up the desperation within the Leopards front office. Having lost consecutive Finals, it feels like the window might have closed for the bridesmaids of Chinese basketball. One media agency even suggested that it is time to move on from Hudson, the two-time CBA MVP and the driving force behind the Leopards success during the last three years. Hudson, at 32, is certainly no spent force quite yet (this season he averaged a career best 31.7 ppg) but the means in which Xinjiang outlasted the Leopards suggests that the latter will need to try and bring in more local players to help out the veteran American guard. With Li Xiaoxu and He Tianju both missing the entire season with injuries, Liaoning were brittle on the glass and had to ask Hudson and Guo to do almost all of the scoring (as evidenced by the fact Hudson took 14 three-point shots a game this year). Ultimately, a lack of local depth cost them and now they will be watching the Finals at home rather than attending it in person.
Guangdong Tigers vs. the Shenzhen Leopards (Guangdong won 4-1)
Having expected to be facing Shanghai, the Guangdong Tigers instead had to fight their way through a provincial derby to get to the Finals.
But even then, it was a relatively straight forward affair. Well rested after their sweep of Sichuan, the Tigers put the ball in the hands of Donald Sloan and their Chinese veterans Zhou Peng and Yi Jianlian. With Carlos Boozer also becoming a critical spark plug off the bench in the postseason, the Tigers had enough old hands to take care of their plucky neighbors. Whereas the Xinjiang vs. Liaoning series was a fascinating encounter between two CBA giants, the other play-off series was a case of experience trumping youth. The young and fun Shenzhen team will be back in the postseason but Guangdong lucked into a relatively easy series this time around and handled it like they should have.