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CBA : Southern Tigers Snatch 3rd Consecutive Title
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The Guangdong Southern Tigers bagged their third consecutive title of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league with an 88-81 win over visitors, the Bayi Rockets, on Wednesday.

In the league-winning game, Guangdong center Yi Jianlian dazzled with a "double-double" game-high of 26 points and eleven rebounds. Zhu Fangyu netted 21 points and grabbed five rebounds. Dixon Jason added 15 points and six shots off the board. Du Feng and Wang Shipeng shot nine and seven points respectively.

Mo Ke led the Rockets' scoring with 24 points and six rebounds. Li Ke nailed 19 points and Che Ke tallied 17. Veteran Li Nan also netted double figures with 11 points for Bayi.

Guangdong opened the game with an 11-4 lead. But Bayi's defensive intensity and Li Nan's three-pointers helped the Rockets turn back the tables at 24-20 after the first quarter.

An 8-0 Guangdong spurt early in the second period was a sign of things to come, as the Southern Tigers gradually found their rhythm and dominated the inside play. Du Feng's steal and dunk pushed Guangdong to a 44-39 cushion at halftime.

The Southern Tigers played with a two-foreigner line-up in the third quarter, rocking the Bayi boat and sending their shooting percentage plummeting. Guangdong stretched their lead to 61-51 on Dixon Jason's tip-in after 36 minutes.

Trailing by 10 points into the fourth period, Bayi staged its final counterattack with a 15-3 run to out-score at 66-64. But it was Dixon Jason again who controlled the under-ring and helped Guangdong to enjoy a double-digit advantage with only two minutes on the clock. Bayi's Zhang Jinsong whipped a three-pointer with 11 seconds remaining but it was too little and too late for them to take the game into overtime. 

The Southern Tigers out-rebounded Bayi 40-32 with a scoring average of 62 percent from the field, 17 percent higher than the visitors. Winning the best-of-seven playoff finals with a 4-1 aggregate, the Tigers for the first time came out on top on home ground since their 2003-04 season win.

"I was extremely exited when we won the first championship in 2004. In 2005, we rallied to win the decisive game of the best-of-five finals playing away to Jiangsu Dragons and it just felt like escaping from a desperate situation," said Zhu Fangyu, last year's finals MVP (Most Valuable Player), smiling, "This time, everything followed the prescribed order and everything was under control."

Wang Shipeng, the fourth Guangdong player who has been recruited to the national team, was satisfied with his and the team's performance. "Last year I was only a rookie, but I've become much better after two seasons and training with the national team."

The 2.12-meter-tall Yi Jianlian, averaging 19.6 points and 11 rebounds in the post season, lifted the champions' trophy. Commenting on the rumor of his intention to join this year's NBA draft, the 19-year-old said he still lacked the experience and ability: "Yao Ming participated in many international games before he joined the NBA. So the world championships and the Asian Games this year are pretty important to me and I don't want to lose these chances to get better."

Chen Haitao, official of the Guangdong club, noted that although the time might be right, the club would let Yi play in the NBA sooner or later.

After the Rockets won all seven of the first CBA titles when it debuted in 1995, Guangdong is the second team to win the championship three times running.

Established in 1993 as China's first privately owned basketball team, the club is funded by the Huangyuan Group. Unlike most CBA teams that are affiliated to local sports bureaus, Guangdong applies for admission to the league annually and holds the property and operating rights of its players. 

After being promoted from the second-division league to inaugurate the CBA league in 1995, the Guangdong team headhunted several former national players including Li Chunjiang and Guan Deyou. The team went on to finish runners-up in the 1995-96 season and was second runners-up the next year.

Today, Li is head coach and Guan team leader.

In 1997, Hongyuan Group joined hands with the Guangdong Institute of Sports and Athletics Technology to establish a B team, from which Guangdong draws its constant supply of bright young talent from all over the country. These included Du Feng, Zhu Fangyu, Wang Shipeng and Yi Jianlian.

To further develop its industry and market, the Hongyuan Group gave up its soccer team in 2001. "Compared to China's football, basketball is less connected with administration interference and more market-focused," Chen Lin, board chairman of the Hongyuan Group, explained.

His decision was spot-on and Guangdong Hongyuan became the first profitable club in China, earning over 1 million yuan in 2003.

"Hongyuan is the first professional team to win the championship, which is of far-reaching importance to the league and to Chinese basketball," Li Yuanwei, vice president of the CBA said, adding that other clubs could learn from Guangdong's success.

Today's Guangdong team is a young one - all under 26 - with the exception of its two veterans, Li Qun and Song Xi, which makes it a team to watch in future CBA seasons. 

( by Li Xiao April 20, 2006)

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