Sakers sink the Sonicboom in a thriller

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Clark Ira (red with ball) led all teams in scoring, pouring in 29 points helping the Changwon LG Sakers win 71-66.

There is a term, a word that describes exactly what was witnessed in Changwon Korea, and that is “barnburner”.
On Thursday November 15, Changwon’s LG Sakers were the ranked 7th out of the ten-team Korean Basketball League (KBL). They hosted the Busan KT Sonicboom who were ranked 6th.  Here you have two teams in the middle of the pack clawing to climb the ranks. These games are always exciting. For instance, in the NBA playoffs, the 4vs.5 series is always (most of the time) a better series than the 1vs.8 series.
A shot of the glow in the dark lines. Too cool.
It’s 7:00 p.m. and the arena lights dim. It’s player introduction time and to my surprise, with the arena being pitch black, the only light in the place are the glow in the dark sidelines, baselines, free throw lines, half court line and three point lines. I get fascinated too easily.
 Tip off is underway and the Changwon crowd has already erupted. Changwon has this “spirit leader” who like a conductor for an orchestra, is leading the Saker faithful to non-stop cheering.
The game has a fast tempo style, or at least it seems that way because Korean guards are very quick on their feet. There is no walking the ball up court calling plays before the half court line, no, usually the ball is passed the half court line with 20 seconds left on the shot clock to create as many play options as possible.
Both teams exchanged buckets in the first half. This game is living well up to its expectations. Busan holds a five-point lead going into halftime.
A busan player creates space for a pull-up ten foot jumper.
Something that is real interesting during that first half is my first KBL zone defense sighting. I thought it was very cool to see; unfortunately it was very poorly executed. From my perspective, Koreans have played man to man their entire lives. If they grew up playing basketball at a young age, it was man to man. There was no help rotation on a simple 2-3 zone, which led to wide-open corner three pointers and easy weak side backdoor layups. I still give it an A for effort.
At half time, I go up to the arena’s 7/11, buy some Pringles and Coca Cola, back to my $25 courtside seats I go (talk about a bang for your buck).
I’m not exactly sure what Changwon’s coach told the team at halftime (I could have been right there in that locker room and still would have no idea what the coach was saying) but whatever it was, it sparked the team. Changwon started the half with a massive run that swung the five-point lead in Changwon’s favour.
Fast forward to the quarter, and with four minutes remaining it’s still anyone’s game at 61-58 for Busan. Hard on the ball defense is being played on the perimeter while the post players are exchanging elbows jockeying for position down low. This has all the hype to be a playoff game.
Two minutes to go and Changwon ignites the already lit crowd with a huge three-pointer to take a two-point lead. With the crowd on their side and strong momentum, Changwon’s defense creates a turnover, which then leads to a fast break foul. Changwon goes to the line for two to ice the game.
That big Changwon three pointer was the nail that sealed the coffin. Busan couldn’t get anything going after that. Changwon holds on to win 71-66. What a game.
**
The basketball buddha enjoying his $25 court-side seats.
After each game I will list three culture shocks that I experienced at each game.
Changwon Culture Shocks
1.     $25 courtside seats
2.    Benson Rodrique of the Changwon LG Sakers banked every free throw. That’s right, he shot every free throw off the glass. Called “bank” every time.
3.  At the end of the game, I left during the “free throw for possession” time to beat all of the Koreans to the taxis. The usher guided me to the exit, yes the exit, but the exit was the exit behind the arena. I was in a dark field behind the arena. Thanks to my cell phone flashlight I was able to walk all the way around the arena to see the fans already pouring out of the arena and into the taxis that I was supposed to be in. First one out of the arena, last one in a taxi (waiting at least 25 minutes for a cab). That damn usher.

Nick Bedard (@bedardnick) is the editor-in-chief of Basketballbuddha.com.

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