Players of Liaoning Flying Leopards celebrate after winning the second game of the finals between Guangdong Southern Tigers and Liaoning Flying Leopards at the 2019-2020 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, Aug. 13, 2020. (Xinhua/Li Ziheng)

Liaoning Flying Leopards came back from 22 points down to defeat the Guangdong Southern Tigers 115-113 in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) finals here on Thursday, leveling the scores at 1-1 in the best-of-three series.

Liaoning grabbed a 6-0 lead after the tip-off with four points from center Han Dejun, though Guangdong raced 38-34 ahead by the end of the first quarter, as they hit seven of nine three-pointers.

The defending champions enlarged the margin to double digits for a brief period and had an eight-point advantage at the end of the first half, as Sonny Weems added 11 points in the second quarter.

Launching a 17-5 run, the Southern Tigers extended their lead to 22 points midway through the third quarter, and seemed set to take the series title, having already won the first game. However, Liaoning then rallied to cut the deficit to just 12 points.

Guo Ailun took center stage in the fourth quarter, scoring eight points and a steal in a row to help Liaoning tie the game 95-95.

Liaoning had a two-point lead with 10 seconds remaining, and cheered their victory when Weems missed a buzzer-beater.

Despite Guangdong’s defeat, Weems had a game-high 37 points and eight rebounds, veteran Yi Jianlian bagged 16 points and 10 rebounds, Zhao Rui also had 16 points, and Hu Mingxuan contributed 14 points.

For Liaoning, Guo and O.J. Mayo each notched 28 points, Han collected 17 points, and Gao Shiyan and Wang Huadong added 12 points apiece.

„We believe in victory, believe in victory, believe in victory, and finally we made it,“ said Alejandro Martinez, acting head coach of Liaoning.

„When we led with over 20 points in the third quarter, the defense became weak and the organization of offense was too simple,“ said Du Feng, head coach of Guangdong.

Guangdong Southeast Tigers forward Zhou Peng has spoken of his experience of recovering from a serious injury over the past year after returning to action on court.

As the 2020 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) season resumed on Saturday, reigning champions Guangdong outplayed Shanxi Loongs 105-82 in Zhou’s first match of the campaign.

Zhou, who is also captain of China’s national team, had sustained a left foot metatarsal fracture before last summer’s FIBA World Cup on home court.

„This time, I missed out on the most important match and was absent from where I was supposed to be. Looking around, I felt helpless, and even prepared for the worst case scenario,“ Zhou wrote on Weibo, China’s twitter-like social account.

Zhou said that during his recovery, he found it hard to see the way ahead, leading him to doubt his own confidence and courage.

„You gave me a glimmer of light, and guided me out of hopelessness,“ he noted, expressing his gratitude to the country, his wife, friends, teammates and fans for giving him motivation to carry on.

„I return to the court for those people who love me. What I have suffered will be the strongest part of my body.“

„After 323 days, now I’m back,“ he concluded.

Starting in Saturday’s game, Zhou finished with six points, two rebounds and two assists.

Guangdong remain top of the 2020 CBA standings with a 29-2 win-loss record.