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Apache offer apologies as Gardener leads Phoenix to blowout victory

by Ed Odeven

During the pre-game shooting drills on Saturday, Tokyo Apache guard Darin Satoshi Maki walked over to the courtside press table to greet a few reporters. Then he said, “You came to see the Great Wall.”

He was, of course, referring to China’s Sun Ming Ming, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s 236-cm starting center.

In the end, what the 2,453 spectators saw was an old-fashioned blowout victory. The Phoenix humiliated the Apache 118-78 in the series opener at Ariake Colosseum and improved to 3-0 against Tokyo.

“Sometimes certain teams have your number, and that’s the way it is,” Tokyo coach Joe Bryant said after his team’s third one-sided loss to Hamamatsu. “Certain teams it seems like you can’t beat.”

In this runaway yet entertaining spectacle all eyes were on Michael Gardener. The dynamic all-around guard turned the opening half into his own personal highlights show, scoring 32 points, grabbing seven rounds and dishing out three assists. Always moving, always hustling, always on the attack, Gardener nearly outscored Tokyo before halftime.

The Apache trailed 67-36 at the break in this embarrassing loss as their five-game winning streak ended.

After the game, Tokyo coach Joe Bryant stepped onto the court to make his customary comments to the fans. This time, however, he felt the need to begin by saying a few out-of-the-ordinary remarks.

“First of all, I want to apologize for our performance today,” Bryant said after his team dropped to 10-5.

Seconds later, each of the Apache players, one by one, also apologized for the team’s lackluster effort. It was an unusual occurrence on the basketball court, but one that truly underscored how bad Tokyo played.

“Really the bottom line is it comes to heart and hustle and picking up loose balls,” Bryant said bluntly.

He added: “Every time we missed a shot it seemed like they were starting a fast break.”

And on numerous occasions the ball was given to Gardener to make things happen. Gardner’s ability to break down the defense off the dribble and use his super quick feet to create an instant mismatch worked to his advantage. He went to the free-throw line for 11 shots in the fast, ferocious first half, and made all of them. He was 3-for-8 from 3-point range and 6-for-10 from inside the arc, converting layups and jumpers with equal flair.

On the defensive end, Hamamatsu played terrific first-half defense, putting two defenders on Tokyo’s ball handlers with regularity. This, in turn, forced the Apache to make quick, decisive action with the ball. Shots often appeared rushed, and Tokyo’s offense never found the rhythm that led to five straight victories entering the game.

Gardener finished with 36 points, his third 30-point outing of the season. He played five minutes in the fourth quarter and then joined his teammates on the bench, laughing, clapping and enjoying the rout.

“The game was really lost in the first half and it was really the Michael Gardener show, or I could say the D-Wade show,” Bryant said, referring to Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade.

“Tomorrow we have to find a way to slow down Gardener.”