The CBA Finals In One Image

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In what has been a crazy Finals that saw players fight in the streets with fans, the potential suspension of the championship series itself and journalists sob at press conferences, an underdog Sichuan Blue Whale roster surprised many basketball observers by overcoming a stronger, deeper and more experienced Liaoning team.

The key was Hamed Haddadi, who averaged 21.6 points and 19.2 rebounds on his way to the Finals MVP crown. Back in November, I predicted he could be a huge factor in winning a title so I’m feeling pretty smug right now, but it will be the center himself that will have the biggest grin of all.

So in a special moment for Chinese basketball, Haddadi– who is not the most popular guy in the league because of his chippy style of play– got a send-off that is rarely seen outside of a Hollywood screenplay. Because of rules about foreign players, the beloved center has now probably played his last game for Sichuan but still gets to walk off into the sunset as a CBA champion.

Yet before he walked down the player’s tunnel for the final time, a visibly emotional Haddadi suddenly walked up into the packed stands of Sichuan’s arena and gave an impromptu victory speech over the PA system. Its a great photo and one that hopefully can define this Finals after all the anarchy that has preceded it.

CBA Finals Game 5: Sichuan Blue Whale, 94 – Liaoning Leopards, 91

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Sichuan are CBA Champions for the first time in their history– and only three years since they were promoted up into the top tier of Chinese basketball from the part-time National Basketball League. Meanwhile, Hamed Haddadi secured Finals MVP after averaging 21.6 and 19.2 rebounds during the series. Continue reading “CBA Finals Game 5: Sichuan Blue Whale, 94 – Liaoning Leopards, 91”

Beatdowns, Globetrotters and the PLA; The Doomed History of the Liaoning Leopards

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As he collected himself for a packed press conference, Guo Shiqiang was visibly emotional. He was trying to address the assembled media after his Liaoning Leopards team lost 96-87 in Game 4 of the CBA Finals, a defeat that came less than two days after his players fought in the street with rival fans. At one point, someone told him he was a champion to the people of Liaoning province because of his leadership during the ongoing scandal. But with his team down 3-1, the Leopards are close to losing a second successful Finals. As he spoke, a red-eyed Guo, was bitting down on his lip, trying to fight back the tears. Others, though, could not hold it together and at least one journalist began to weep in the middle of the press conference.  Continue reading “Beatdowns, Globetrotters and the PLA; The Doomed History of the Liaoning Leopards”

CBA Finals Game 4: Sichuan 96- Liaoning 87

The Sichuan Blue Whale now have a 3-1 stranglehold over the Liaoning Leopards after winning their third game in a row. Former Utah and Houston forward Mike Harris had 34 points whilst Hamad Haddadi put up a 13 pt, 20 rebound double-double.

To the surprise of many, Guo Ailun started Game 4 less than 48 hours after injuring his hand fighting with Sichuan fans outside his team hotel. He Tianju, the other high profile Leopards player caught up in the incident, would watch the game from the sidelines.

Liaoning had their moments but ultimately looked drained from the media attention of the last day or so. Lester Hudson and Guo combined for 49 points but Sichuan rode Harris’ hot hand and managed to get enough production out of their local roster to pull away in the fourth quarter.

Game 5 will take place in Liaoning province amid mounted security and press attention. It is also worth noting that no team has ever come back from being down 3-1 in the Finals.

Update: Finals To Continue Despite Player/Fan Brawl

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Following the battle between Liaoning Leopards players and fans of the Sichuan Blue Whale outside a downtown hotel in Chengdu, it was unclear what was going to happen next. Take your pick from substantial suspensions being dished out to the Leopards players that threw hands; the Finals getting suspended; the Blue Whale organization getting in trouble for their fans ambushing Liaoning players and family; the Chengdu city police force getting punished for not putting on better security at the hotel. Whatever way you look at it, everyone’s got something to be worried about.

But twenty-four hours later, some steps have been taken to move forward from the crisis– even if people still aren’t entirely clear about what happened and why things went down the way they did on Wednesday night. Continue reading “Update: Finals To Continue Despite Player/Fan Brawl”

CBA Players Brawl With Fans Hours After Finals Game

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In a remarkable situation, players from the Liaoning Leopards– including several members of the Chinese national team– fought with rival fans outside the team hotel just hours after the team had lost 109-104 to Sichuan Blue Whale in Game 3 of the CBA Finals. The incident has quickly become one of the most talked about stories in China, and once again, the CBA is staring at another major scandal that could not have happened at a worse time. Continue reading “CBA Players Brawl With Fans Hours After Finals Game”

CBA Finals: Games 1-3, A Very Quick Finals Recap

NB: Due to work commitments and illness, I’ve been behind on my writing. To help get people caught up on the CBA Finals, here is a quick recap of the first three games between the Liaoning Leopards and Sichuan Blue Whale.

Game 1: (Liaoning won 103-89)
After a back-and-forth opening three quarters, Liaoning puled away down the stretch in the fourth. The Leopards exploited Sichuan’s weak bench and reliance on their foreign players to run up the score in the final ten minutes. Lester Hudson had 29 pts, 11 ast for Liaoning.

Game 2: (Sichuan won 96-89)
Sichuan came out strong in the second game and rode the hot hands of Mike Harris and Hamed Haddadi all the way to victory. The scoreline was close for most of the game but a number of big shots from Harris helped put away Liaoning. The former Houston and Utah forward would hit a dagger three with 53 seconds left on the clock to open up an insurmountable lead and tie up the series.

Game 3: (Sichuan won 109-104)
In front of their home fans for the first time in the series, Sichuan relied on a different American, Justin Dentmon (40 pts, 6 rebs, 6 ast), to guide them over the finishing line. Dentmon’s pick-and-roll partnership with Haddadi was simply too much for Liaoning to contain whilst Hudson also chucked up too many shots to be truly effective (he finished 5-of-14 from downtown). A Haddadi offensive rebound and put-back opened up a double digit lead with four minutes to play and after that, Liaoning had too much to do and not enough time.

CBA Semi-Final Recap: Game 3

Guangdong Tigers 97 @Liaoning Leopards 96; (Liaoning Lead 2-1)

Notables:
Guangdong-Yi Jianlian, 26 pts, 10 rbs; Justin Carter, 16pts, 7 rbs, 6 asts
Liaoning- Lester Hudson, 34 pts; Shavlik Randolph 20pts.

Guangdong won out in a wild game that will be remembered for several huge shots in the final seconds but a sloppy first half was ultimately what undid Liaoning in front of their home fans. A chippy game that defined a very feisty series ebbed and flowed amid nervy turn-overs but by the third quarter, Guangdong had opened up a lead that nearly reached twenty points.

Yet suddenly, Liaoning seemed to find themselves and exploded into life with the fourth quarter looming. A number of big baskets down the stretch reduced Guangdong’s lead to just three points and with less than a minute to play, Lester Hudson nailed a corner three with a man in his face to tie the game up at 94-94. With twenty-three seconds left in the game, Hudson then appeared to have won it all when he cut between two Guangdong players, charged into the paint and somehow laid the ball up and over Ike Diogu.

With the series coming down to one play, Guangdong then heaved up a miracle play of their own when Zhou Peng drained a heavily contested corner three of his own to win the game and extend a remarkable semi-final clash.

Sichuan Blue Whale 115 @ Xinjiang Tiger 104; (Sichuan win the series 3-0)

Notables
Sichuan- Justin Dentmon, 36pts; Hamed Haddadi 29 pts, 18 rbs.
Xinjiang- Andray Blatche, 33pts (6-of-8 from 3pt).

Heavily fancied Xinjiang are out are of the play-offs following a comprehensive beatdown. Knowing they had no choice but to go for it, the home team’s desperation played right into the hands of Sichuan, who eventually slowed down the Sichuan offense and then proceeded to march down the other court and rain down three-pointers almost at will.

Andray Blatche made a commendable final stand but there was few Tigers players around him that willing to help him out. With eight minutes on the clock, the American even tied the game up 96-96 with a top-of-the-arc three-pointer and for a second or two, it seemed like something was about to happen. However, a tactical adjustment by Sichuan saw the offense turned over to Justin Dentmon and Hamed Haddadi as the Blue Whale attempted to finish out the game using the hot hands of their foreign players.

Zhou Qi, Xinjiang’s potential NBA draft pick was especially silent as the game started to drift away from his team. Haddadi bossed the paint down the stretch whilst the pacey Dentmon did the rest in transition. The end was swift but the reprocutions in Urumqi will be bloody.

 

CBA Semi-Final Recap: Game 2

Liaoning 103 @ Guangdong 88: (Liaoning lead 2-0)

Notables
Liaoning- Lester Hudson, 31pts (6-of-14 from 3pt), 7 ast, 7 rbs, 3 stls; Li Xiaoxu, 11pts, 14 rbs (7 offensive rebounds)
Guangdong- Yi Jianlian, 23pts, 10 rbs; Zhou Peng, 21 pts (4-of-7 from 3pt)

A comprehensive mauling of Guangdong put Liaoning in the driving seat and now the Leopards will go home looking to seal the deal in front of their own fans.

Led by Lester Hudson, Liaoning were too much for an older Tigers roster. Indeed, other than Yi Jianlian and Zhou Peng, Guangdong’s local guys looked either overwhelmed or unsure of themselves. In particular, the visiting team bullied Guangdong down low, snatching up offensive rebounds and generally being first to the ball every time it came down from the sky.

To his credit, Yi was commendable amid the chaos, dropping three treys before the halftime break to help hold Liaoning’s lead to just four points at the break. But having rested up during halftime, the Leopards opened up a double digit advantage going into the fourth quarter and put the ball in the hands of Hudson to close out the game. The two-time CBA MVP was up to the task and confidently kept the scoreboard ticking over to give the surging Leopards another critical win.

Xinjiang 93 @ Sichuan 96 (OT); (Sichuan lead 2-0)

Notables
Xinjiang-Bryce Cotton, 23pts, Li Gen, 22pts;
Hamed Haddadi, 38pts, 21 rbs, 5stls; Mike Harris, 28pts, 15rbs.

Another strong start by Sichuan and an underpar showing by Andray Blatche both contributed to another surprise win by the Blue Whale. As a result, Xinjiang find them in a massive hole and will have to go for broke in the final three games of their play-off series.

As ever, Sichuan relied heavily on their imports and Hamed Haddadi, Mike Harris and Justin Dentmon all were involved in a 17-0 run that helped send the home side in at the break with a 52-44 lead. But in a repeat of the previous game, Xinjiang made a fourth quarter push and in doing so sent a back-and-fourth game into overtime after Li Gen came alive for the Tigers down the stretch.

At this point, Sichuan could have folded but canny play calling by Yang Xuezeng allowed Harris and Haddadi to keep their team ahead of the guests. Sichuan nearly screwed themselves out of the win with seconds to go after a shot clock violation but in the end, the underdogs snuck over the finishing line.

CBA Semi-Final Recap: Game 1

Liaoning 116 @ Guangdong 114; (Liaoning lead 1-0)

Notables
Liaoning- Lester Hudson, 29 pts, 8 rbs, 5 stls; Guo Ailun, 20 pts, 7 ast.
Guangdong- Ike Diogu, 31 pts, 16 rbs; Yi Jianlian, 28 pts, 8 rbs, 2 blks.

A crazy, back-and-fourth game came down to the final play in overtime– and narrowly avoided being the leading sports story in the country to boot. With neither team really able to put any distance on the other, the contest shifted into overtime where Guo Ailun came up with some timely buckets down the stretch.

Although Lester Hudson went 3-of-15 from 3pt range, timely steals helped his team on the defensive end and critically take a two point lead into the final play of the game. Initially it looked as if Liaoning would see the game out when a blocked Zhou Peng shot seemed to bounce off a Guangdong player and off the court. With little time left on the court, it may as well have been game over. But instead, after a lengthy discussion between the referees, somehow the Tigers ended up with the ball and the chance to tie the game. It was a remarkable decision but Ike Diogu couldn’t force a second round of overtime and just like that, the game was over.

Xinjiang 111 @ Sichuan 114; (Sichuan lead 1-0).

Notables:
Xinjiang- Bryce Cotton 35pts (7-of-11 from 3pt); Zhou Qi, 17pts + 15rbs.
Sichuan- Mike Harris, 41pts, 12 rbs, 6 ast; Hamed Haddadi, 11 pts, 17pts, 4blks; Meng Da, 24 pts (4of-8 from 3pt)

As predicted in our semi-final preview, Sichuan came out all guns blazing in against the slightly favored Xinjiang Tigers and for a while, the visitors looked in real trouble. When veteran swingman Meng Da fired home the first of four treys for the evening, Sichuan were already up 23-9 with only eight minutes on the clock.

With Blue Whale threatening to open up a twenty-point lead midway through the second quarter, Xinjiang responded by giving Bryce Cotton the green light and the American point guard duly went off. Sensing that Sichuan were struggling to contain the Tigers from around the perimeter, the bombs kept coming from downtown and by the third quarter, the game was a one-possession contest.

However, a second Sichuan charge happened at the same time that Andray Blatche began to lose his cool and get into foul trouble and a Mike Harris tip-in at the buzzer made it 95-78 to Sichuan by the end of the third.

Amazingly, Sichuan almost blew that lead again but held on down the stretch to close out the game. The Blue Whale now have series advantage to take on the road whilst Xinjiang have to win big to stay in the postseason. Li Gen, the supposed key to a Xinjiang title, must have a better game or else the big spending Tigers will once again choke their way out of a championship.