The Hong Kong Flying Dragons gave a strong showing but fell just short of victory on their debut in the Chinese Basketball Association yesterday. Former NBA player Sharone Wright and fellow American Willie Mitchell made big impressions for the SAR team but were unable to prevent the Shougang Beijing Ducks scoring a 109-104 win.
Wright and Mitchell both had excellent games, but they fouled out in the last quarter of the closely-fought game as the Ducks, who finished fifth in the CBA last season, ran out winners in Beijing. Mainland forward Xue Yueyang, last season's Rookie of the Year, also fouled out in the fourth quarter as the Dragons made a positive, but ultimately losing, start to their first CBA campaign.
Dragons coach Li Ren said the American players had done well on their debuts, but the Ducks proved a shade too strong in the end. Wright played for Philadelphia, Minnesota and Toronto in the NBA, while Mitchell was with the Detroit Dogs in the ABA - and their experience showed as the pair entertained a good crowd with their slam-dunking displays. 'The game was so close and there was never more than a few points in it. We did well and we played with credit against a strong team who had home support. It was unfortunate that we lost by just a few points, but this is a good sign [for us] because this was only our first match. If we continue to play like this, we should notch a couple of victories. It was unfortunate that we had three key players foul out, especially in the fourth quarter. It was the most crucial part of the game, but it just proved our spirit in the game.'
The Ducks led 55-50 at half-time and the hosts continued to hold the upper hand when they led 80-68 at the end of the third quarter. Wright and Mitchell grew frustrated by the less physical style of the CBA and both fouled out in the fourth quarter. But the Dragons were still breathing fire and came within a point, trailing 104-103 with a minute to go, before Beijing eventually closed out the win.
'It was a crucial time to lose key players just when we needed them,' said Li. 'Overall, I am quite happy with our performance because we weren't expected to win and our preparations weren't great. The American players had trouble getting used to the CBA style and were more physical in their approach. We have to improve on this and hopefully we will play better in our next game [in Beijing].'
The Dragons are away to Beijing Aoshen, who have four US professionals on their books, including Justin Love, who played for the St Louis SkyHawks.