The CBA playoffs are now in full swing and everyone in China is glued to their TVs watching everything play out. A couple of teams are already going home, while others are hanging on to the postseason dreams by their fingertips. With that in mind, let’s check in on the best-of-five quarterfinals to see who is doing what and which notable American free agents are coming home.
Guangdong Tigers (1) vs. Dongguan (8): Guangdong Leading 2-1
Having lost the first game of the series in what was considered a huge upset within China, Guangdong has since stabilized and are now on the verge of eliminating their crosstown rivals. Yi Jianlian has been huge for the Tigers and remains a double-double machine. Currently averaging 29.6 points per game and shooting 67 percent from the floor, Yi has been a constant problem for Dongguan, who have thrown everything at the 7’1″ center to no avail.
The Tigers are also experienced enough to know when to push the envelope. Make no mistake, Guangdong is playing some great basketball but they are also content to deploy some cynical tricks when the referees’ backs are turned. In Game 2, Dongguan’s Bobby Brown was hit in the back of the head by Chen Jianghua, seemingly in retaliation for an earlier incident. Brown reacted to Chen’s cheap shot and got himself a technical and, critically, got Dongguan out of rhythm. It wasn’t pretty but teams don’t get as good as Guangdong without knowing when to bend the rules.
Liaoning were in cruise control for the entirety of their quarterfinal series with Guangsha, and it showed in the sweep. The Lions, led by Li Chunjiang, one of the most successful coaches in modern Chinese basketball, were never going to go quietly but Liaoning simply had too much talent.
Critically, Liaoning appeared to settle on a game plan and stick to it. Lester Hudson, the Leopards’ star player, has already won one CBA title and took another team to a CBA Finals. Given that experience, it made sense to let the American combo guard control the tempo, and the rest of the roster responded accordingly. Clever floor spacing gave Hudson plenty of passing options along with room to get off his own shot. Hudson averaged 33.3 points and 10 assists per game during the series.
Qingdao Eagles (3) vs Shanxi Dragons (6): Qingdao Won 3-0
One of the more unlikely fairytales in Chinese basketball lives on for at least another round. Qingdao advanced to the semifinals after an impressive routing of Shanxi. Playing in the organization’s first ever playoff series, many were interested to see how the Eagles would cope with the pressure, and the team passed the test with flying colors. Knowing that Shanxi wanted to drag Qingdao into a shootout, the Eagles focused their efforts on defense and gradually ground down the opposing team over three games. With no way of getting into a groove, Shanxi started to panic while the Eagles put the ball in the hands of their experienced overseas players.
Beijing Ducks (4) vs Jilin Tigers (5): Beijing Won 3-0
Beijing, the reigning CBA champions, wasted little time in destroyed the plucky but ultimately outmatched Tigers team. With every basketball fan in China knowing that Jilin would rely heavily on Dominique Jones, Beijing’s head coach Min Lulei’s scouting report was going to be fairly brief. Over the course of the series, the Ducks went out of their way to make life as tough as possible for Jones, who constantly had to fight his way through double-teams to get a good look at the basket.
The American shooting guard still managed to average 31 points in the series, but Beijing knew that if Jones began to get frustrated, the confidence of the Tigers team as a whole would plummet. Sure enough, by the time the two teams came back to Beijing for Game 3, Jilin’s players were already thinking about next season. Beijing scored 72 points before halftime and were able to pull most of their starters for the second half, and they still won 137-95. The Ducks, who have made their fourth semifinal in a row, can now enjoy several days rest before the next round begins on Feb. 25.
Newly Available Free Agents:
Dominique Jones, PG/SG (37.9 ppg, 8.2 apg)– The combo guard had an outstanding year with Jilin, finishing third in scoring and first in assists. Jones could be a spark-plug coming off the bench for an NBA team, although his three-point shooting is not outstanding.
Eli Holman, PF/C (22.9 ppg, 14.5 rpg)– Holman has emerged as an outstanding two-way player for Guangsha this season. Strong as an ox and a force on the boards, Holman has been great on defense but has also shown himself able to carry a team offensively as well.
Von Wafer, SG (32.5 ppg)– A no-nonsense scorer, Wafer has spent the entire CBA season demonstrating that there isn’t a shot he can’t make. Agile, quick and able to make his own shot, the guard quickly became the most important part of Shanxi’s offense. He is, however, an inconsistent defender.
Jeremy Tyler, PF/C (22.1 ppg, 11.1rpg)– Tyler quietly became one of the better big men in the league over the course of 38 regular season games. Physically stronger than almost anyone else in the league, Tyler could get his points down low, but he also helped Shanxi clean up on defense and was rebounding at a fairly regular pace. The American, still only 24, could be an interesting project for several NBA teams.
MORE FROM ANDREW CRAWFORD:
PREVIEWING THE CBA PLAYOFFS AND THE FOREIGN MVP RACE
NETS PLAYERS WOULD WELCOME ANDRAY BLATCHE BACK FROM CHINA)
10 PLAYERS IN CHINA WHO COULD HELP NBA PLAYOFF TEAMS)
EMMANUEL MUDIAY FACES UNCERTAIN FUTURE IN CHINA)
BEASLEY SHINES, MUDIAY REMAINS, BLATCHE DOES WORK)
METTA WORLD PEACE’S STINT IN CHINA MAY COME TO PREMATURE END)
Andrew Crawford is a long-time Chinese basketball writer and a former beat reporter in the Chinese Basketball Association. His twitter address is @shouldersgalore.