ZHUJI, China – Already unparalleled in winning their 10th Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) title last season, Guangdong Southern Tigers repeated their triumph over Liaoning Flying Leopards and refreshed their own record after winning a historic 11th CBA championship.
Guangdong further built their dynasty by winning their third consecutive CBA championship after defeating Liaoning 110-103 in overtime here in Game 3 on Saturday. Hu Mingxuan was named FMVP.
“I would like to thank Guangdong for giving chances to young players like me. This is an award for the entire team. It is the power of our team that made me who I am,” said the 23-year-old guard.
Coach Du Feng, who started his second coaching spell with Guangdong in the 2018-2019 season, attributed the success this time to “faith and hunger for championship.”
“It’s a tough journey,” said the tearful 39-year-old. “We lost Marshon [Brooks] in the antepenultimate match of the regular season, which meant we had to change our system in a short time.”
“I would like to thank my players that trust and support for me so that we can fight for the same goal together,” he added.
The coach was generous with his compliment over veteran Zhou Peng, calling the 31-year-old the FVMP in his heart.
“He is the most important player in our squad. His critical block in our quarterfinal against Beijing saved our season. He is always here and there on the defensive end. His contribution is not reflected in numbers sometimes, but he never complaints about anything, and he helps young players grow all the way. I respect him the most.”
Trailing for the majority of the time, Liaoning finally made it a one-possession game at 99-96 with 51.1 seconds left in regular time. Sonny Weems of Guangdong paced the attack but missed his shot and Guo Ailun raced to the basket and drew a foul from Hu. The Liaoning star missed his second free throw, but Zhang Zhenlin jumped for a tip-in to tie the match at 99-99. After Weems missed the final chance in 15 seconds, the game went to overtime.
Weems led Guangdong to open with an 8-0 scoring spree, thanks to second-chance opportunities after the Tigers grabbed offensive rebounds in three consecutive possessions. O.J. Mayo and Fu Hao scored four points from the line thereafter for Liaoning, but Hu kept Guangdong’s advantage after making his two free throws.
Liaoning had the chance to close the gap again, but Zhang missed both shots from the line in the next possession, and Liaoning had no choice but resorting to foul tactics just 12.7 seconds from time. Hu remained solid on the free throw line to put Guangdong 110-103 ahead. After Zhao Jiwei missed the target beyond the arc, Guangdong players could finally celebrate their hard-fought championship win.
Weems chipped in 29 points, including 14 in the third quarter. The 34-year-old also had 10 rebounds and eight assists. Hu contributed 19 points and Zhao Rui and Zhou scored 15 apiece.
Guo had a double-double of 24 points and 13 assists. 23-year-old Fu contributed 24 points, followed by 16 points from Mayo.
“It’s a difficult season for our players. We had chance to win the title, especially in Game 3, but we were not good enough compared with Guangdong,” Liaoning coach Yang Ming said, trying to hold back his tears. “But we have given our all. From the coaching staff to the players, we fought till the last bullet.”
Guo opened with a three-pointer to set Liaoning off to a good start, before feeding teammates for easy baskets when doubled. Guangdong took advantage of fast-break chances to score, with Hu continuously attacking the basket with his speed. After frequent lead changes, Hu made a lay-up to grant Guangdong a 20-19 advantage in the first quarter that saw seven players from both sides score.
Zhou scored eight points to help Guangdong surge ahead 30-22 early in the second period that forced Liaoning to a timeout, after which Zhang shone on the offensive end with five points. But that was not enough for Liaoning to cut the deficit behind a Guangdong side that was raining threes. As the half time buzzer rang, Guangdong was 10 points ahead at 54-44.
Guangdong pressed more in the thrid quarter and put Liaoning under foul pressure less than four minutes into play. After a 9-2 run and later a five-point scoring streak by Weems, Guangdong expanded its lead to 17 points at 70-53.
Guo put on a one-man show after that, shooting from downtown and dancing through Guangdong’s defense to spur Liaoning to a 9-0 run and close the gap 62-70. However, with solid performance on the free throw line, Guangdong dimmed Liaoning’s comeback efforts, leading by 81-68 before the final 12 minutes.
Mired by turnovers, Liaoning found it hard to break through Guangdong’s tight defense in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, until Han Dejun made a three-point play, and Fu made another later and two more free throws as Liaoning trailed 82-88 with less than seven minutes left on the clock. The two sides traded points thereafter, until Zhang’s high jump from the crowding paint extended the game to overtime.
The 10-time champion gave a young Liaoning side a lesson in overtime, and lifted the trophy ahead of cheering fans.
“We look calm, don’t we?” Zhou joked in the press conference. “We had another back-to-back-to-back title, and the 11th championship is special to me as 11 is my jersey number.”
“But we will not rest on our laurel. I will draw my experience and hone my techniques in the seasons to come, and fight to make history again,” he added.
Zhao, who stepped on the podium wearing Marshon Brooks’ jersey, said he was happy that he had delivered his promise, winning a championship for his injured teammate. He told the press that after winning the championship, he hoped to return to the national team roster, “returning to my dream stage.”
“It’s an ultimate honor to play for your country and even if I’m not able to make it, I hope people take me as a kid that works hard,” said an emotional Zhao.
Du, also the national team coach, responded by quipping: “Now you made me sweat.”