The Chinese team of the Liaoning Flying Leopards was yesterday crowned the new Champion of the “The Terrific 12” Basketball Tournament, organized by the East Asian Super League and hosted by Macau.
The Flying Leopards succeed the Japanese team of the Ryukyu Golden Kings as trophy winners and take home not only the title but also prize money in the sum of $150,000 (1.21 million patacas).
The Chinese team edged victory in the final game against the Seoul SK Knights by just one point (82-83).
The final played yesterday evening at the Tap Seac Multisports Pavilion and proved to be a demonstration of high-quality basketball that kept the audience in suspense as the two teams took turns taking the lead.
For the Chinese team, the major highlight was again American player Lance Stephenson, who scored 34 points for the Flying Leopards in the final and contributed greatly to their victory.
The former NBA player for the Los Angeles Lakers put all his skills to the game elevating the Flying Leopards to a win secured only in the last seconds of the game against a fierce Korean side, where Americans Jameel Warney (36 points) and Aaron Haynes (26 points) drove most of the play.
The Knights of Seoul started the game stronger and led the first quarter (27-20), but the Flying Leopards found balance and took the lead on several occasions. The largest point gap of the whole game belonged to the Knights when they led the Flying Leopards by 10 points (30-20).
With no doubt that both teams fought for the win and perhaps equally deserved one, a couple of doubtful decisions in favor of the Chinese team – especially in the second quarter and at the start of the third – might have contributed to the outcome.
On the third quarter, the Knights can also lay the blame at their own mistakes – specifically a series of three failed attacks – precisely as the Flying Leopards took their chance to lead the scoreboard once more.
While the Knights were living at the expense of mostly Warney and Haynes, Stephenson proved the lifeline of the Flying Leopards, although sometimes with the help of the other import player, Tunisian Salah Mejri (19 points).
The game could have taken a different path when, with just 3 minutes and 30 seconds to play, Stephenson notched his fourth personal fault, becoming on the verge of being excluded from the game just as the Knights had made a comeback to lead by three points.
But with cautious play, Stephenson avoided the fifth fault and remained on the court until the horn sounded to help the team score precious points in attack and retrieve the ball in defense.
The outstanding performance of the player was reason enough to be awarded the accolade for the MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the entire tournament, adding a personal achievement to the team’s victory in Macau.
In the other game of the day, and playing for the third place, the Chinese of the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions also edged the Filipinos of the San Miguel Beermen by a very small difference (91-89) securing third place and $50,000 (MOP403,000) in prize money.
A pre-season competition good for ‘pushing limits’
In the press conference that followed the awards ceremony, the coaches of both teams agreed that “The Terrific 12” was, above all, a great opportunity for the teams to prepare for their upcoming seasons in a very competitive environment.
First, to speak to the media, Coach Moon Kyung Eun (Knights) noted that the team is “still in preparation for the regular season,” adding that the tournament was “very good to prepare the upcoming games and competitions.”
“It’s very good to play against strong teams so we can prepare well for our season,” Moon said. “This is good for the team to push its limits.”
Coach Moon also noted that the Flying Leopards have “very strong players,” adding that the import players contracted by the Chinese teams gave the teams a hand in becoming stronger.
Coach Guo Shiqing agreed on the importance of the event as a season preparation. Questioned by the media, he noted, “from the start, our goal was to finish in the top four. We needed to play the four games to complete our preparation and that was the most important. Of course, we are even happier to be champions.”
“We hired Lance [Stephenson] because we knew he is an all-round player, he can perform well in different positions and both the attack and in the defense,” explained Guo, as he commented on the star player’s performance. “He is a great element to the team and we hope he can be our team leader.”