The professional basketball team in Beijing is called the Ducks, but I don’t see why. It should be the Beijing Stephon Marburies. There is no player more valuable to his team — not Yi Jianlian for Guangdong, not Doug McDermott for Creighton, not even LeBron James for Miami — than Marbury is to Beijing, and if you needed any proof, just fire up last night’s decisive Game 5 of the CBA semifinals, which saw the Ducks beat the Guangdong Southern Tigers 110-102 in Dongguan.
It’s not just the numbers: 31 points (on 9 for 15 shooting), 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals (and fouled 11 times). It’s that when Marbury’s on the court, the Ducks resemble a professional basketball team. Defenders get spread out and put on their heels. And it’s the way the veteran — now in his fifth year in China — carries himself on the court, never scowling at his teammates or losing his focus despite getting his arms chopped every other possession.
When Marbury sits — as he had to for the start of the second quarter last night — the Ducks fall apart. Plain and simple.
Last night could have been a disaster. Zhu Yanxi somehow racked up four fouls in less than 20 minutes. Li Gen was his usual tofu-with-limbs self. Ji Zhe continued to shrink into his own head. Randolph Morris seemed more interested in pouting and fighting — here he is literally punching Dong Hanlin in the second quarter, which could have warranted an ejection and cost Beijing the game. Point guard Lee Hsueh-lin kept passing like he was throwing a bowling ball. The Ducks had a 29-21 lead after the first quarter and then raced out to 40 points, but — against a stifling full-court press that no one seemed able to break — stalled there and seemed in danger of crumbling.
Marbury had to be subbed back in. (The CBA limits the combined court time for a team’s foreigners, so Morris had to sit — though he was playing so poorly, he should have anyway.) Immediately, the game changed. Guangdong called off its press — it wouldn’t play it again all game, since Marbury is arguably the best ball handler in the league — and Beijing regained control of the tempo. The Ducks led 48-44 at intermission — Marbury hit the final shot just before the buzzer, of course — the first halftime lead they’d had all series, and there was a palpable sense that Marbury was not going to let his team falter.
The 37-year-old, on a surgically repaired knee, continued to dominate over the course of the next 24 minutes. (He would log a game-high 40 minutes and 27 seconds. Did we mention surgically repaired knee?) As time bled away in the fourth quarter with the Ducks clinging to a six-, then four-point lead, Marbury continually took it to the bucket, enduring the blatant hacking of both Zhou Peng — who is easily the most detestable basketball player I’ve ever witnessed — and Yi Jianlian. Yi, it should be noted, is a wonderful competitor, but he absolutely had no idea how to keep Marbury in front of him on the perimeter.
Guangdong was unable to duplicate its perimeter shooting success from Game 4, and Beijing iced the game from the free throw line. Somehow, inexplicably, the road team won the final three games in this series. (Beijing won Game 3 in Dongguan behind Marbury’s 43 points.) For the first time in 12 years, the Guangdong Southern Tigers will be watching the CBA finals from home.
The best-of-seven finals will open next Wednesday at 7:35 pm in Xinjiang, home of the Flying Tigers, who finished second in the regular season standings (26-8) behind Guangdong.
Images via Sina:
One from Sohu:
Here’s the reception the Ducks received when they arrived home today. The top picture is the cutest.