On Sunday night, the point guard scored an efficient 25 points in Game 6 to lead the Beijing Ducks past the Liaoning Leopards 106-98 for the Ducks’ third title in four years.
A few seconds after the final buzzer sounded, the American was wildly embraced by his Chinese teammates while cameramen fought to capture the moment. Marbury won Finals MVP after averaging 29.9 points per game during the series.
This latest title reaffirms the belief in China that Marbury has been the most impactful foreign player in the 20-year existence of the CBA.
“[Marbury] is the league’s best foreign player; he is a living legend,” gushed an article in Sina Sports, one of China’s leading sports websites. Hupu Sports also praised Marbury for his performance in the decisive Game 6, noting that he “controlled the rhythm of the whole game, especially in the most difficult moments.”
“A lot of people said I was old and couldn’t move,” Marbury said in the locker room after the trophy presentation, “but I used them as motivation. At the start of the season, my knee was not 100% but I trained hard and adjusted. I was just waiting for the start of the playoffs.”
When asked by the Chinese press pack what he was going to do now, Marbury replied he was going to take a holiday but was looking forward to returning to Beijing soon afterward. Marbury immediately said that his goal was a three-peat.
As reporters surrounded Marbury on all sides, Beijing head coach Min Lulei was slumped in a chair, lost in his own thoughts. The Ducks’ star player has been rightly praised for his Finals performances but Min also deserves some plaudits.
Seven days earlier, the Ducks had just been beaten at home by Liaoning, who not only took a 2-1 lead in the series but appeared to have found a flaw with Beijing’s defense. Due to CBA rules, each team is only allowed one foreign player on the court in the fourth quarter and the Leopards knew that Beijing’s Chinese frontcourt could be quickly outmuscled by their own big men. The Ducks were being out-rebounded and unable to box out in the paint; a massive problem in a series that was being decided by one or two small factors.
But in the subsequent three games, Min figured out how to turn the tables. He had Randolph Morris, Beijing’s center, aggressively post up Liaoning’s Han Dejun over and over again. The plan was for the 7’1”, 310-pound Han to be worn out by the start of the second half so he wouldn’t have the energy to be effective.
It was a simple yet perfect adjustment.
Han became a non-factor in the fourth quarter, either out of breath or in foul trouble in crunch time. Min was also able to exploit the situation further by running several lineups that spaced the floor and allowed Marbury to get to the rim and finish through the exhausted Han.
Some media members argue that Beijing also got lucky at times, particularly in Game 4. A Marbury three-point play gave Beijing a 111-110 win and many were furious about the match officials. Liaoning had several scoring opportunities broken up by the referees in the fourth quarter and after the game, Liaoning’s players were openly upset at the bad calls.
Game 5, however, was a different story. By then, Beijing had perfected its strategy of having Morris bludgeon Han for three quarters and then let Marbury guide the team to victory in the fourth. The Ducks won 105-93 as a heartbroken Liaoning team struggled to keep up with Marbury, who scored 30 points while Morris had a 17 point, 13 rebound double-double.
The deciding Game 6 showed that Beijing had a championship pedigree. Having withstood a first quarter charge by Liaoning, the Ducks began to exploit the growing weaknesses within the Leopards’ defense. Once again, Morris spent the first half beating up Han before giving way to Beijing’s Chinese frontcourt, most of whom were long-distance shooters rather than low-post brutes. Power-forward Di Xiaochuan would nail five three-pointers while center Zhu Yanxi would also come off the bench and make three treys of his own. With Liaoning’s big men being forced to move up to the perimeter to stop Di and Zhu, Marbury was able to get to the rim with ease.
The big question now is if Beijing can achieve a three-peat.
Min and Marbury both spoke about it after the game and there is nothing to suggest the Ducks won’t be a major contender next year. Most of the Chinese roster are 27 or younger and the foreign players have contracts with Beijing and won’t be returning to the NBA anytime soon.
To use a phrase Marbury was overheard repeatedly shouting in the locker room after Game 6, a Chinese basketball dynasty has been established.
MORE FROM ANDREW CRAWFORD:
MARBURY’S BEIJING TEAM TRAILS IN EXCITING CBA FINALS
CBA FINALS PREVIEW: MARBURY AND HUDSON HEADLINE BEIJING-LIAONING CLASH
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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.