As the NBA regular season approaches its final stage, it’s already Finals time in China. Contending for the title after a 1-1 tie at the conclusion of Game 2 it’s Liaoning and Sichuan.
We’ve already introduced the two teams here and here respectively (not only that, we’ve also praised their accomplishments here), so we’ll spare the formalities and dive right into what’s going on in these Finals.
But we’re not stopping here: while the last stage of the Chinese season is unfolding, some of its main protagonists have already left the scene. Not only that: To top it off they’ve found a new home right where they always wanted to be: the NBA.
No more preambles, let’s get started.
1. CBA Finals: where Chinese basketball finally meets, ahem, basketball.
No matter how much of a mantra team basketball is in their timeouts, it’s hard for CBA coaches to complain when their stars take over.
However, even in China, even in the El Dorado of individualistic basketball (ironic enough for a country whose main values promote the opposite) where the only mantra seems to be “get cash, get buckets, get either an NBA contract or 8 months of vacation,” you don’t win by yourself.
Lots of players post gaudy numbers in the regular season, some even in the playoffs, only to bow out before the final stage comes.
This season is no exception: while Sichuan seems, and to a certain extent is, carried by the Big Three from abroad (Hamed Haddadi, Mike Harris and Justin Dentmon), one or two games wrap up enough evidence to conclude every member of the team is on the same page. Offensive plays are sharp and defensive help is provided in bunches by Haddadi’s size on the interior. He had 25 points and 26 rebounds in Game 2, and it would not surprise us to see him make a return to the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, who are running on fumes due to injuries to multiple players, including centers Marc Gasol and Chris Andersen, and could use another big body.
Liaoning, on the other side, is even more cohesive thanks to Lester Hudson running the show alongside pretty much the exact same supporting cast he enjoyed last year, when the Flying Leopards reached the Finals but couldn’t overcome Beijing. The only significant addition, former Celtic Shavlik Randolph, is an upgrade compared to 2014-15 big man import Deon Thompson.
This is notable not just because these Finals have so far been very balanced, but because the execution of both teams has been much better on both ends. No more hero-ball, no more 130-125 games, no more trading buckets. In the 20 playoff games that have lead to the Finals, only twice a team has been kept below 90 points for a whole game.
This has already happened twice in the Finals. In two games.
Fear not, however: even in a much more team-oriented, actual-basketball-looking environment the traditional tough, spectacular shots have been coming up in the usual bunches; just take your pick on which contested 3 by Hudson you like the most (he had 28 points in Game 2):
This off-balance three-point leaner?
Maybe this in your face, I-don’t-mind-double-teams trifecta?
Something taken right out of Chauncey Billups’ playbook?
Ah, wait. I know what you like: Fat men throwing down alley-oop jams.
I will wrap up the finals in my next post … and then we shall see if Hudson, Hammadi, Randolph or anyone else makes for a nice late-season addition.
Marco Catanzaro is a blogger and a CBA analyst at Shotsuey!, Shark Fin Hoops and, of course, Sheridan Hoops. You can follow him on Twitter @Arnstrad.