ZHUJI, China, April 29 (Xinhua) — Guo Ailun scored 33 points to lift the Liaoning Flying Leopards to a 102-98 victory after overtime over defending champions the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) finals here on Thursday, tying the best-of-three series 1-1.
Apart from his game-high scoring, Guo also had seven rebounds and four assists. Young forward Zhang Zhenlin scored 24 points and grabbed seven boards. Han Dejun had a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Sonny Weems led Guangdong with 28 points and 12 rebounds, followed by 27 points and eight rebounds from Zhao Rui.
Ninety seconds from regular time, the game was tied at 83-83, before Zhao Rui hit a three-pointer to put Liaoning on the brink of another defeat.
Han Dejun had a chance to make a three-point play, but missed the free throw. When he was sent to the line again for Zhou Peng’s foul, the big man missed both in front of a buzzing crowd, leaving Liaoning trailing 85-86 with 25 seconds left on the clock.
Still short of one point with 12 seconds left, Liaoning had no choice but to send Zhou Peng to the free-throw line, and the Guangdong captain did not fail the cheering fans. However, Zhao Jiwei, who scored only two points before the moment, sank a deep three and sent the game to overtime.
Four points from Guo and Han apiece helped Liaoning seize the match in hand 99-93 with 74 seconds left in overtime. Zhao Rui missed both free throws after he forced Guo to his fifth foul, and to make things worse for Guangdong, Zhou was given a flagrant foul that saw Zhao Jiwei convert both free throws to dim Guangdong’s hope. With Weems’ pass going beyond the sideline in the last five seconds, Liaoning extended the series to Game 3.
“It’s dramatic match, and it’s a pity we lost,” Guangdong coach Du Feng said. “We put up solid defense throughout the match, but couldn’t stop Zhao’s three-pointer. But this is basketball.”
Guangdong went into the game with a 1-0 advantage as they triumphed in Game 1 88-83 on Tuesday.
“We gave ourselves too much pressure in Game 1,” Liaoning coach Yang Ming told reporters in the training session earlier on Thursday. “Half of our player have no finals experience before. After we lost G1, we managed to adjust our mentality and we will take G2 as a regular game.”
Both sides were hot beyond the arc from the right beginning, with arrays of threes and answer balls leaving the fans buzzing. Zhao Rui made three three-pointers to put Guangdong ahead of the Guo-led Liaoning side 17-14 midway into the first quarter.
When Han Dejun, who grabbed five rebounds in seven minutes, was rested on bench, Liaoning lost their rhythm in attacking, committing frequent turnovers which allowed Guangdong to launch a 9-0 run for a 30-21 lead, with seven points from Sonny Weems.
Guo made a three-point play when Liaoning suffered a dry spell early in the second quarter, which preluded an array of fierce attack by his side.
Zhang Zhenlin made two free throws and then a three at the buzzer to boost Liaoning’s morale, which hit a climax after Fogg stole the ball in the following possession and made another three that cut the deficit to one point at 36-37.
The two sides traded points and Liaoning tied the game 43-43 following Zhao Jiwei’s lay-up, only to see a 6-0 run by Guangdong after coach Du Feng called a timeout. As the buzzer rang, Guangdong led 49-43 before the break.
Zhao Rui, who was the leading scorer in the match at that time, was helped out by teammates in the first possession after the restart which did a big blow to Guangdong. Zhang scored five in a row in Liaoning’s scoring spree. Guo sank a three pointers and then a fast-break in a 14-2 run that saw Liaoning surge ahead 57-51 and his name chanted in the arena.
Six minutes into the third quarter, Zhao returned to the court amid rounds of applause to lead Guangdong’s offensive charges, but was overshadowed by an on-fire Guo, who made two three-pointers for Liaoning. Hu made a quick lay-up as Guangdong trailed 65-69 after the third period, during which Guo scored 13.
After a seesawing with Liaoning in the fourth quarter, Guangdong looked close to winning their 11th CBA championship when Han missed both free throws. With Guangdong leading 88-85, Zhao stepped up as Liaoning’s hero and hit the decisive 3-pointer.
“It’s a ‘go big or go home’ match for us, so we had no choice but to fight with all we have. The most important thing is that the veterans like Guo Ailun, Zhao Jiwei and Han Dejun, who won the championship with Liaoning in 2018, shouldered their responsibilities. Zhang Zhenlin was also one of those who were able to make their contribution when needed,” Yang said after the match.
The young coach particularly sang high praise of their star guard Guo.
“He is the kind of player with a big heart. The more important the match is, the more he is able to keep motivated and give full play to his potential. He is capable of rising to the occasion when crunch time hits.”
“Now what we need most is to calm down, because the series has not come to the end yet,” he stressed.
Game 3 of the finals will be staged on Saturday. Enditem