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The move seemed to pay off, as the team did not lose a single game until the (meaningless) final game of the regular season, finishing 33-4 and with the #1 overall seed heading into the playoffs.
All the while, Mudiay was still working out and practicing with the team, continuing to collect his paycheck and staying ready for the event that he was called upon due to injury or a coach's decision.
That's exactly what ended up happening, as after losing the first two games of the playoff semifinals, Guangdong head coach Du Feng made the controversial decision to deactivate big man import Jeff Adrien in favor of an all-US backcourt of Bynum and Mudiay. The team only had one day off between games to prepare for this unconventional adjustment, with Mudiay and Bynum never having played together in any type of official setting.
Surprisingly, it worked. Mudiay came off the bench and played 34 minutes, scoring 24 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and dishing out four assists to go along with two turnovers. He shot just 6/15 from 2-point range, but made two of his four 3-point attempts and 6-10 free throws. Guangdong beat Beijing 110-99 at home, forcing a Game Four in Beijing two days later.
Things got a little bit stranger even in Game Four, as towards the end of the first quarter, Will Bynum went down with a hamstring injury that would shelve him for the rest of the game. From that point on, Mudiay was the only import at Guangdong's disposal, and he would go on to play a team-high 44 minutes (including an overtime session), looking utterly exhausted at times. Guangdong seemingly had the game won of a few different occasions, but the heroics of 38 year-old former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury (who scored 38 points, including an incredible 3-pointer to force overtime) would ultimately prevent them from forcing a decisive Game 5 back on their home floor.
Mudiay didn't find the same success this time around, scoring 15 points, with 7 rebounds and 8 assists, but needing 14 shots (3-10 2P, 2-4 3P) to get there, turning the ball over six times, and again struggling from the free throw line, where he hit just 3-6 attempts (bringing him to 57% from the season). Guangdong's season ended on a disappointing note, with Beijing scoring on a miraculous putback at the buzzer to advance to the Finals against Liaoning.
Still, Mudiay's Chinese adventure went about as well as anyone could reasonably expect considering his age, lack of experience, and the incredible pressure of playing for a championship contending team in one of the least patient and rational basketball environments on earth. There are very few 18-year olds on the planet who are equipped to handle a situation like this, and all things considered, he certainly did not disappoint.
Now it's back to the US where Mudiay will likely keep a low profile until NBA Draft season rolls around, where its unlikely teams will get to see a great deal more than they were able to in China. This is what makes these surprising two playoff games he played this week so interesting, prompting us to take a deeper look at the film and see what can be gleaned.
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