The CBA semifinals are in the books once again. One series was a rout while the other produced a number of shocks that fascinated audiences across China — and even in America.
Hey, any news on Emmanuel Mudiay qualifies as big news. With that in mind, its time to break down the last week in the CBA.
Beijing Ducks defeated Guangdong Tigers 3-1
It took one of the most pulsating games in the history of the Chinese postseason, but the Beijing Ducks are through to the CBA Finals. A 3-pointer by Stephon Marbury sent a back-and-fourth Game 4 into overtime before a buzzer beating tip-in by Zhu Yanxi helped Beijing win 107-105 as well as send Guangdong into crisis mode.
Indeed, a lot of attention will now be on the Guangdong front office, who once again failed to find the correct parts for the inevitable playoff meeting with Beijing. This is the third postseason in four years that the Tigers have lost to the team from China’s capital city.
The Ducks won the first game of the series, 114-108, thanks in large part to center Randolph Morris’s haul of 26 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Guangdong was excellent in patches, particularly with Will Bynum and Yi Jianlian executing the pick and roll, but Morris’s impact on both ends of the floor would prove to be critical.
Beijing then shocked the Tigers by winning Game 2 on the road, 103-96 and suddenly Guangdong were frantically trying to dig themselves out of a hole. Jeff Adrien, the midseason acquisition at power forward was removed from the active roster and in his place, Emmanuel Mudiay was brought back in from the cold to take Adrien’s place.
The move was immediately controversial. Technically, playoff rosters are fixed and can’t be changed during the postseason. But Guangdong appeared to have found a loophole in the rules and exploited it in a desperate attempt to save the team’s season. Adrien had been ineffective against the rampaging Morris while Mudiay’s height and strength were expected to help cancel out Beijing’s huge backcourt tandem of 6”9 Sun Yue and 6”8 Li Gen.
Mudiay, who had been out for three months with an ankle injury, then bailed his team out in decisive fashion, scoring 24 points in a 110-99 Game 3 victory. Initially, the Tigers’ gamble looked like it would pay-off as Guangdong’s floor-spacing shooters gave Mudiay space to get to the rim but also knock down a couple of uncontested mid-range jumpers.
But the Ducks quickly figured out a way to stop Mudiay in a critical Game 4. With starting point guard Will Bynum struggling with injury, the Ducks knew Mudiay was the Tigers’ main ballhandler. As a result, the Ducks played a very aggressive pick-and-roll defense to try and panic Mudiay. The end result was the point guard going 5-of-14 from the floor and coughing up 6 turnovers.
With the Tigers’ point guards unable to get the offense going, an occasionally sluggish Beijing were always able to keep up with Guangdong. On the other end, Marbury would have 38 points but his overtime-forcing shot was the most important of all. Then in OT, Beijing’s youthful roster helped tire Guangdong and with 0.8 seconds to go, Zhu was on hand to rebound a Marbury three-pointer and stuff the ball home before the buzzer sounded.
Liaoning Leopards defeated Qingdao Eagles 3-0
After years of inconsistency, Liaoning have returned to the CBA Finals for the first time since the 2007/08 season and did so in emphatic fashion by sweeping a dire Qingdao team.
In the buildup to the series, it was discovered that the Eagles’ Hamad Haddadi was struggling with dizziness, and for a team that relied heavily on their three foreign players, this was a huge problem.
Haddadi would struggle in Game 1 of the series and despite taking a twenty-point lead into the halftime break, Qingdao’s defensive issues meant the game was never out of reach for Liaoning. It took the Leopards little more than a quarter to take the lead back and by the final buzzer, Liaoning had won 106-95. Lester Hudson had 39 points and Qingdao’s traditionally bad perimeter defense combined with a sudden lack of rim protection were key factors in the Liaoning players running wild in the second half.
A clearly drained Haddadi only played 17 minutes in Game 2 and without a big man to stop them, Liaoning’s roster dominated the paint on both sides of the floor. The end result was a 112-103 Leopards win that was far more one-sided than the result might have suggested.
But it would be in the decisive Game 3 that Qingdao’s weaknesses were most on show. This time, with Haddadi unable to play, Liaoning relentlessly dumped the ball into the post to let their 7-1, 310lb big man Han Dejun to grind down Qingdao’s back-up bigs. Then, when Han needed to rest, guards Lester Hudson and Guo Ailun could come around screens and charge into the paint knowing that they were either getting the bucket or going to be fouled whilst shooting. It was simplistic but also brutally effective. Liaoning finished off a poor Qingdao team, 129-110 and as far as sweeps go, this one was especially embarrassing.
Returning NBA free agents
Will Bynum, PG (22.9ppg, 7.3apg)– A midseason arrival, Bynum immediately became a critical part of Guangdong’s offense and developed a strong working relationship with Yi Jianlian. A hugely experienced pick and roll operator, Bynum can also open up space for a shot thanks to his lethal crossover.
Jeff Adrien, PF (13.6ppg, 11.3rpg)– Somewhat of an enigma in Guangdong. When he was used effectively, Adrien was a force on the glass and had a knack of coming up with timely offensive rebounds. However, it also has been suggested that a run of underwhelming performances was the reason behind the power forwards sudden deactivation by Tigers coach Du Feng.
Emmanuel Mudiay (18.3ppg, 6.2rpg, 5.7apg)– Whilst not a free agent as such, the future NBA draft pick carried himself well in China. After a lengthy spell on the sidelines, he helped Guangdong win a playoff game despite having 48 hours notice to prepare. Lightning quick and physically imposing, Mudiay was also a match-up nightmare when he played. However, he is also still raw as a playmaker, a little inconsistent from three-point range and can be spooked into making mistakes.
Justin Dentmon (30.4ppg, 5.0 apg)– Having dipped his toe in the NBA via a couple of 10-day contracts, Dentmon will not be a complete mystery to American GMs. An experienced shoot-first point guard, Dentmon’s biggest skill is being able to pull up and sink the three-point shot over and over again.
Mike Harris (22.9ppg, 9.7rpg)– Harris can play both forward spots very well at the CBA level and has done the same for several NBA teams over the years. As a shooter, he can be streaky, especially from long range but he is a proven veteran that contributes across the stat sheet.
Hamed Haddadi (20.4ppg, 13.9rpg, 2.3bpg)– Whilst he was a dominant force in the CBA, offensively, it remains to be seen if Haddadi can be as effective in the NBA. On defensive though, the center is a tough nosed rebounder who revels in being physical and tussling for position.
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Andrew Crawford is a long-time Chinese basketball writer and a former beat reporter in the Chinese Basketball Association. His twitter address is @shouldersgalore.