By Andrew Crawford
The Sharks finally won a game on the road despite the continued absences of Liu Wei and Tseng Wen-ting. Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who was also expected to be out injured, was passed fit and Shanghai needed him to steady the nerves of his younger team mates and combine with a swaggering Mike Harris to lead the Sharks to victory against a suitably villainous Bayi Rockets team by a score of 94-85.
Indeed, the first quarter was all Forehan-Kelly, who quickly found his rhythm; scoring baskets from up close and from long range in an impressive display of shooting. Feng Tian was also showing a hot touch and the two combined to lead the Sharks to a seven point advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Bayi, a team who’d only lost once at home all season (to undefeated league leaders, Beijing) weren’t looking themselves and the second quarter was the same story as the first. Shanghai bossed their hosts around the court and Harris was one of the chief instigators.
Despite (or because of) a loud crowd roaring them on in the Youngor Arena, the Rockets continually made mistakes and turnovers, which Shanghai tucked away without asking any questions. A seemingly baffled home side went in at the break down 50-36.
Clearly a halftime dressing down had been issued as the Bayi team that returned to the floor after the interval was noticeably more agressive and physical (who would have though, eh?)- at one point Mo Ke got Harris in a headlock as the American drove to the rim.
The rough housing and hard fouls that rained down around the Sharks evidently did the trick as suddenly Shanghai were giving up fouls and free throws at a rapid pace. Form out of nowhere, a lifeless Bayi team had found something that worked and did their best to intimidate a youngish Sharks squad into giving up their lead. An improbable third quarter saw the game turned on its head and the Rockets leading, 61-57.
Yet if a basketball player’s money is made in the fourth quarter, than Harris and RFK earned their pay cheques this month. Taking control of the game, the overseas duo set about Bayi with a clear, direct fury and proceeded to make the Rockets pay for their earlier bout of physicality.
Harris in particular dropped a couple of fiery dunks as the pair combined to lead their younger charges around the imposing but otherwise unspectacular opponants. Everytime Shanghai fashioned a fastbreak or an open look, Harris or RFK would finish it off; it was as simple as that.
Coach Panaggio was probably breathing a sigh of relief from the sidelines as his side gradually pulled away from Bayi. Zhang Zhaoxu, Feng and Meng Lingyuan were finding their groove again and the Rockets’ one-card trick had clearly been mastered. The buzzer sounded with the Sharks up 94-85 and the road form hoodoo had been silenced. RFK made a juicy 31 points, Harris had 24 whilst Feng and Meng made 13 and 11 respectively. Zhang had also made some crucial rebounds to steady the ship as the Sharks started to pull away.
JR Smith will be waiting for the Sharks on Wednesday but the Sharks can now enjoy a rare victory on the road before sitting down and preparing themselves for the Zhejiang Bulls. Tonight was a tough game for the Sharks but they pulled out a defiant win in the end and will be aiming for an improbably four-in-a-row when they get on the plane to Yiwu.
Andrew Crawford is a blogger for sharkfinhoops.com, the only English website about the fortunes of the Shanghai Sharks.