It wasn’t the most fitting game for the final, but in a sense the highly-defensive contest showed the weight of the annual Emperor’s Cup title.
The defending champion Aisin Sea Horses took advantage of a huge early lead and escaped from the challenger Hitachi Sunrockers’ second-half rally to complete a back-to-back triumph with a 65-48 win in the All-Japan Basketball Championship 2009 final on Monday.
“We hadn’t been able to play the previous games of this tournament at the level we would have liked, but in the end were able to defend well enough,” Aisin head coach Kimikazu Suzuki said of his squad, which had beaten Meiji University, the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins and Toyota Motors Alvark before getting to the championship game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
In front of 4,633 fans, the Sea Horses jumped out to build a 13-0 lead as Hitachi wasn’t able to sink a shot in the opening quarter. The Sunrockers kept struggling and failed to find the answer to Aisin’s formidable defense to go on to finish the first quarter trailing 24-10 (failing to hit any 2-point field-goals) and 40-18 at the half.
The Sunrockers’ offense finally started rolling in the third period on Lamar Rice’s eight-point effort to cut the deficit down to 14 points at 52-38.
The Sunrockers caught up with the shadow of Aisin, shrinking the gap to 10 on forward/center Joji Takeuchi’s consecutive points with less than five minutes left in the final quarter. But Aisin, which continued to hold off Hitachi with its stingy defense, wouldn’t let them come any closer, although the Sea Horses couldn’t score any points until almost nine minutes into the period.
In the end it was all about the first half, and Hitachi just didn’t have enough time to catch up with Aisin.
“We made our first final (of the All-Japan tourney) and I felt the weight of the Emperor’s Cup,” said Hitachi coach Shuji Ono after his team outscored its rival 30-25 in the second half. “The beginning (of the game) was everything. We couldn’t move the ball because of the defense (of Aisin).
“In the second half, we were finally able to show our game, though.”
Point guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi, the reigning JBL MVP, led the Sea Horses with 16 points, four assists (tied with teammate J.R. Sakuragi) and four steals. He committed four turnovers.
“From the start of the game I was so conscious of my defense, and putting a lot of pressure on our opponents was our team’s strategy,” Kashiwagi said. “Not just me, but the other four players on the floor were doing great defense as well and I thought (the Sunrockers) weren’t moving the ball well.”