Shanghai Sharks 99 – Liaoning Innovators 118

Having beaten Guangsha Lions and Jilin Tigers in convincing fashion, the Shanghai Sharks couldn’t make it a hat-trick of impressive performances. Instead they ran out of steam in a high scoring game against the Liaoning Innovators. The Sharks were hard-working and determined but ultimately couldn’t overcome their guests’ inspired offence in a match where eleven players made it into double digits.

The away side brought with them a sizable group of supporters and the game had a derby atmosphere with both sets of fans relentlessly heckling each other throughout. Thunderous dunks from Zhang Zhaoxu and Rodney Carney moved the noise levels up another notch as both teams attacked relentlessly. By the time the dust had settled at the end of the first quarter, Shanghai led 28-21, thanks to some deft shooting from Liu Wei and Peng Fei.

Yet after an intense opening twelve minutes, Shanghai looked like they had punched themselves out. Liaoning quickly found their groove and overturned the Sharks’ lead before giving themselves a seven point advantage of their own. With Josh Powell and Peng Zhang becoming more influential, the Innovators were looking ominously potent as the sides left the court for halftime .

The furious shoot out continued after the interval and to the horror of the Shanghai fans, Liaoning’s hot streak showed no sign of fading away. Carney in particular was having an excellent day at the office and the American was flawless whenever he found an open look from range.

A valiant stand from Zhang was keeping Shanghai in the game but every time the big centre earned himself a basket, the Innovators would calmly stroll down to the other end and add two points of their own. Spoilt for choice, when Peng, Powell or Carney were being marked too closely, Liaoning could simply fall back on youngsters Li Xiaoxu or Guo Ailun to finish the job.

The fourth quarter was just as dramatic as the previous three as Liu Wei, having left the court following an earlier collision, tried to make up for lost time with a couple of well taken baskets whilst Mike Harris and Ryan Forehan-Kelly made their impact felt as well.

Yet having looked manageable in the early stages of the game, a beleaguered Sharks team suddenly had to deal with Han Dejun bustling his way around the Shanghai backcourt. The beefy centre’s graft and forceful ball retention in the final few minutes of the game was the final nail in the coffin to any hopes of a Sharks comeback. If only to rub salt into Shanghai’s wounds, Powell slammed home another dunk to the sound of his fans chanting ‘Championes, Championes’ as the Yuanshen steadily emptied around them.

The final buzzer sounded and a somewhat baffled Sharks left the court having been unable to keep up with a Liaoning side that was firing on all cylinders. Carney made 27, Powell got 24 and Li (17), Han (13), Peng (13) and Guo (11) all joined their American team mates in double figures. If only to underline how frenzied the game was, Zhang and Harris both had 20 point hauls for Shanghai in difficult conditions, whilst Liu (16), Peng and Forehan-Kelly ( both 15) also made their mark in an exceptionally high scoring game.

In his press conference afterwards, Coach Panaggio could only applaud the visiting side, calling their victory a ‘clinic’ and that Liaoning was the best team the Sharks had faced so far this season. ‘We have to improve our passing and court vision’ he noted, as Sharks prepare for another gruelling set of road games.

Those fans who cheered Shanghai off the court will be satisfied with winning two out of three at home against above-average opposition. However, they must also have known that their team had just been given a cruel reminder of the technical demands that with going toe-to-toe with gifted CBA offensives. Wednesday’s visit to defending champions Guangdong will be a test of Shanghai’s resolve and Panaggio will hope that his side will have learned their lessons sufficiently if they are to get something against a strong Tigers outfit.

Scouting Report: Liaoning Innovators

Another home game, another visit from a team with play-off ambitions, although there is still some doubt as to who exactly is turning up at the Yuanshen on Sunday. Niubball have Liaoning down as the Innovators whilst Asia-Basketball refer to them as the Hunters, although via the patented Taiwanese-American-girlfriend-Mandarin translator, I’m sticking with the gents at Niubball until the side from Yingkou see sense and just refer to themselves as a variety of big cat like 99% of CBA teams.

Having lost on Friday against Foshan Dralions, Liaoning are visiting Shanghai with a 3-3 record after overseas league journeyman, Marcus Douthit dropped 37 points against the Innovators.

Looking to redeem themselves after a season that finished with the away side languishing in mid table obscurity, Liaoning splashed the cash on American free agents Josh Powell and Rodney Carney in a bid to improve things, although in the early stages of the 2011-2012 season, the side doesn’t look anymore decisive. Powell has had a shaky start, dialing up big numbers in a couple of games but then failing to trouble the scoreboard in the following fixtures.

Carney has fared better, and although not making headlines with his shooting, has scored no lower than 17 points a game since he arrived in China. Guards QinPeng Zhang and Yang Ming can also do some damage and Coach Panaggio will be aware that his guests have the potential to cause chaos if everything came together at the same time.

Looking at the form book, this is extremely close. Shanghai have suddenly burst into life and seem a different side at home whilst Liaoning have shown that they can score truckloads of points if their guys are on the same page but haven’t had any consistency  throughout the first six rounds of the season. Moreover, the Sharks defense has been solid of late and Mike Harris has been value for money at both ends of the court. Urggh, I have nothing to sway me apart from bias at this point. Liaoning should win on roster strength but Shanghai have the momentum. Take your pick, people; it really is that close.