ZHUJI, China, April 23 (Xinhua) — Liaoning Flying Leopards will have a chance to avenge their finals defeat to Guangdong Southern Tigers last season as they ousted Zhejiang Golden Bulls 2-0 in the semifinals of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) playoffs here on Friday.
Leading the best of three series 1-0, Liaoning withstood a late scare to secure a 122-117 win over Zhejiang to close out the semifinals for their ninth CBA finals appearance.
“We were mentally prepared for a tough game but the game was even tougher than we thought,” Liaoning coach Yang Ming said. “Fortunately, my players withstood the challenge in the last minutes, carrying on their fighting spirit and determination since the playoffs. In a match like this, composure, less turnover and a big heart determine the eventual winner.”
96 seconds from time, Zhao Jiwei paced Liaoning’s offense and made a layout to push Zhejiang on the brink of elimination 117-111. Wu Qian sank a three-pointer to close the gap 114-117 and Zhejiang resorted to foul tactic. Kyle Fogg made one of two freethrows, but Wu missed his shot beyond the arc.
Fouling on Fu Hao, who also missed a shot from the line, Zhejiang saw the hope of leveling the game as their MVP guard Wu rose to the occasion again with a backed-in three, trimming the deficit to two points with 17 seconds left.
Sent to the line again, Fogg missed his second freethrow, but got the rebound himself and killed Zhejiang’s last hope with two freethrows after being fouled.
Fogg had a team-high 26 points, 22 from the line, plus 11 rebounds. Han Dejun added 23 points. Wu led Zhejiang with 29 points and 11 assists playing nearly 44 minutes.
Han scored 11 in the first quarter, including seven in a row, to grant Liaoning a 32-26 lead over a balanced Zhejiang side that has all eight players scoring points. Zhejiang took advantage of Liaoning’s frequent turnovers early in the second quarter to catch up 42-42, only to see O.J. Mayo made a three-point play and nailed three freethrows thereafter in Liaoning’s 12-2 run.
Trailing by 58-65 into the second half, Zhejiang was mired by foul trouble and its starting forward Zhu Xuhang fouled out midway in the third quarter. Although Sylven Landesberg and Wang Yibo spearheaded the team’s comeback effort when Wu was under tight defense by Liaoning’s All-Star guard Guo Ailun, they failed to contain the attacks by the 2018 CBA champion and eventually lost the chance to save their season in the closing seconds.
“It has been a gruelling season for the players playing all these matches in a bubble; I can’t ask for more from them,” said Zhejiang coach Liu Weiwei. “They have been improving day by day and their efforts paid off as we made franchise history by entering the last four.”
“We still have inadequacies compared with Liaoning, but we demonstrated our persistence. Not a single player on the court gave up hope when we were more than 10 points behind. It’s a pity that we lost the game, but we will build on this experience to become a better team next year,” he added.
Liaoning will meet Guangdong in a rematch of the 2020 finals which saw Guangdong players celebrate back-to-back title, their 10th in franchise history.
Although this time Guangdong will play without Yi Jianlian and Marshon Brooks due to injuries, coach Yang predicted tough games ahead.
“They are 10-time champions and have a deeper squad. We can tell from their semifinal performance that all of their players are in good form, so we are challengers in the finals,” he said.
The finals will be a best of three series that start on April 27. Enditem