TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — The Tokyo Apache returned from a 13-day layoff with a strong all-around effort and a complete victory over the Saitama Broncos, grabbing a 79-70 triumph in the series opener on Saturday.
Saitama (5-4) made 22 turnovers in defeat, including 13 in the second half.
“I just thought we really came out really flat today,” Broncos coach David Benoit said.
“I thought (the Apache) came out and played really aggressive,” added Benoit, whose team has lost four straight games. “We just never matched their intensity. I just got to give them a lot of credit. We’ve got to come back tomorrow and come back on the right path.”
“We just didn’t do a good job defensively,” Benoit confirmed after allowing the Apache to make 32 of 63 shots from 2-point range.
John Humphrey led the Apache (4-3) with a game-high 20 points and Masashi Joho added 17 at Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium. Center Nick Davis added 15 points and 21 rebounds and Cohey Aoki had a 14-point, four-steal, three-assist outing.
Tokyo made 18 steals, maximizing its quickness for much of the evening. Or as Benoit put it, “It’s like a swarming defense.”
Apache coach Joe Bryant smiled when he was asked about his team’s defensive intensity on Saturday. This included five steals by Joho and six players with at least one. Darin Satoshi Maki had a pair of takeaways but also set the tone on defense with his tight, lock-down defense of Broncos guard Taishiro Shimizu.
“When Joho and Darin play like that, it’s contagious like a rash,” Bryant said.
Tokyo turned a six-point lead after one quarter into a 10-point advantage at the break. Saitama trailed 28-26 and 33-31 in the second, but the Apache closed out the quarter on an 8-0 run, including a tomahawk jam by Julius Ashby and a nifty buzzer-beating reverse layup by Aoki.
In the third quarter, the Apache capitalized on the Broncos’ seven turnovers and used a 17-4 spurt to pull ahead 64-44 with 2:15 left in the quarter.
Saitama had no offensive rhythm in the quarter. Tokyo spaced the floor effectively on defense and often anticipated the pass before it was made.
“We played very good defense especially in the third quarter,” Bryant said.
The Broncos, who trailed 66-47 after three quarters, outscored Tokyo 23-13 in the final quarter. At the same time, the Apache’s defensive intensity slipped a bit, Bryant said.
Reggie Warren had a team-best 17 points and 20 boards for Saitama, while Steve Horne added 15 points and Taishiro Shimizu scored 13.
The Broncos struggled at the free-throw line, making 10 of 22 shots. Tokyo was 9 of 14.
When it was over, both coaches, who are former NBA players, were ready to shift the focus to Sunday’s game.
“The most important thing now is to not look past tomorrow’s game,” Bryant said, citing key upcoming series against the Osaka Evessa and Ryukyu Golden Kings as another important segment of the team’s schedule in the first half of the season.
Benoit, on the other hand, talked about wanting to play a more aggressive game in the series finale.
Elsewhere in the bj-league, the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings improved to 9-0 with an 84-77 win over the Shiga Lakestars. Jeff Newton scored 25 points and grabbed 10 boards and Shigeyuki Kinjo added 16 points for Ryukyu, which had five players scored in double figures.
For Shiga (3-6), Ray Schafer had 23 points and 13 rebounds.
The Toyama Grouses defeated the host Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix 75-72. Center Babacar Camara paced the Grouses (2-5) with 16 points and 17 rebounds.
For the Phoenix (5-4), Josh Peppers led the way with 24 points.
The Sendai 89ers defeated the Niigata Albirex BB 97-80. Joe Barber scored 29 points and Bobby St. Preux poured in 24 as the 89ers improved to 5-4.
Yuichi Ikeda’s 19 points led the Albirex (4-5).
In the day’s other games, the Osaka Evessa beat the Oita HeatDevils 86-69, while the Rizing Fukuoka beat the Takamatsu Five Arrows 93-84.