It’s set to start tomorrow: Liaoning will have home court advantage in the 2-3-2 CBA Finals system and will therefore host Beijing for the first two games of the 2015 CBA grand last round.
Who will emerge as the winner?
Pardon me if I begin by claiming some bragging rights: it’s pretty fun how close I was to the eventual truth with my semifinals predictions. Beijing, in the end, have won in 4 games, while it took Liaoning even less to get rid of Qingdao. The Dinosaurs head to the Finals in resounding fashion, having yet to lose a playoff game. Meanwhile, Guo Ailun has risen to a new level of play (don’t forget that he should be eligible to this NBA draft and Li Muhao, never a solid rotational member for his team, managed to score a workout in the presence of NBA scouts last year), Hudson has made known who’s the MVP and even Liu Zhixuan has seemed far more confident after hitting a couple of pretty big shots. In Beijing, the Ducks are as accomplished as ever, making their way to a third CBA Finals appearance in 4 seasons. Li Gen has been the absolute rainmaker, averaging over 20 points per game in the postseason, and Marbury has hit the biggest shots just as we’re used to seeing from him. In the end, however, the clutch touch to get past Guangdong has come from Zhu Yanxi, the stretch big man, by way of a tip-in on a Marbury three that was already almost in Yi’s hands.
The two sides look balanced enough to make this series look very intriguing, but will the series itself be?
1) Liaoning falling asleep.
There seem to be some leaks in Liaoning’s system when they’re playing through the first halves of some games. Even key ones, at that. This is not something you can afford facing a team with Beijing’s experience, as they will not waste their chances easily. Be it concentration issues or genuine will not to head to the stretch run low on stamina and energy, Liaoning simply can’t take possessions or minutes off, especially given how deep Beijing’s team has been rotation-wise.
2) Rebounding edge: is there one?
Stats sometimes lie: the Ducks were supposed to duck (no pun intended) under Guangdong’s pressure on the boards, but they ended up winning the series somewhat comfortably. And all of this despite giving up rebounds. Liaoning possess just as much authority on the glass as Guangdong, but there’s still to see whether this is going to swing the game their way, since Guangdong couldn’t make it work.
Key matchup: Guo Ailun vs Li Gen
Of course, Marbury vs Hudson is the more hyped rendezvous, but they will likely trade a lot of buckets without necessarily guarding each other. Guo and Li, conversely, have a lot to prove, as they’re the rising guards of Chinese basketball altogether and this showdown also could be seen as a statement for their use in a different context (not necessarily the NBA, of course, as none of the two has raised interest yet). Li Gen is the physical, get-out-of-my-way 2-3 tweener that China pretty much misses since the old days of Liu Wei (who anyway was much skinnier even in his prime), Guo Ailun is the talented and athletic combo guard that’s often matched up against the opponents’ best offensive weapon. They both excelled in this postseason: who will excel in the Finals?
Liaoning win if…
They keep their energy level high all the time, let Hudson run wild on Beijing and close down on shooters, who in the capital city are many and well-prepared.
Beijing win if…
They let Randolph Morris tower over every defender, as Liaoning don’t have a real defensive weapon: Han isn’t the most willing defender, Thompson will probably be on the floor only so much because you can’t leave the MVP on the pine and Li X is a bit short for the American power forward, who is a real mismatch at 6’11”. And, of course, ball movement; that’s a given, however, for the Ducks.
Prediction: Beijing wins 4-1.
Beijing seems to be too experienced and complete on both ends to be seriously threatened by Liaoning. Never say never, though.
Take care and enjoy the Finals!
(p.s. as always, credit Sina Sports for the image)