Masashi Joho had the hot hand in the first quarter. Draining shots left and right, he helped the Tokyo Apache take control of Sunday’s game from the get-go.
The Apache extended their lead to 20 points in the third quarter and withstood a furious rally by the Saitama Broncos in the final stanza to earn an 85-81 victory at Ariake Colosseum.
“I thought in the first three quarters we played great,” Apache coach Joe Bryant said. “I’m disappointed in the fourth-quarter (performance). When you make substitutions, the subs have to maintain the lead.”
Tokyo leads the bj-league’s Eastern Conference with an 18-8 record, and Saitama (12-14) sits in third place at the season’s midway point. The 2008-09 All-Star Game will be held on Jan. 25 in Beppu, Oita Prefecture.
Joho scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time this season. Or in the inimitable words of Bryant: “Joho did the Joho thing.” This, of course, included an abundance of 3-point shots (10, to be precise; he knocked down five). Joho finished with 21 in the series finale after a 22-point effort in Saturday’s overtime triumph over Saitama.
John “Helicopter” Humphrey scored a game-high 26 points for Tokyo, Julius Ashby had 13 and Tizzo Johnson 10. Point guard Darin Satoshi Maki had five rebounds, four steals and three assists in 21 busy minutes. Nick Davis grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds.
Tokyo led 23-16 after the first quarter. By that point, Joho already had 13 points, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, one steal and a rare blocked shot.
The Apache took a 40-32 lead into the locker room at halftime. Early in the third quarter, they used a 12-2 spurt to pull ahead 54-37 and increased the advantage to 59-39 after one of Humphrey’s patented slam dunks.
Saitama clawed its way back into the game with a strong shooting effort in the fourth — 8-for-13 on 2-pointers and 5-for-9 on 3s. The Broncos cut the lead to 81-78 in the final minute on a Reggie Warren (20 points overall) putback. Cohey Aoki, who leads the league with 91.3-percent shooting accuracy at the free-throw line, nailed two foul shots to push the margin back to five with 20.6 seconds left and give the Apache a little breathing room.
The Broncos’ Daiki Terashita (14 points), Taishiro Shimizu (13) and Kazuhiro Shoji (12) had solid offensive games in the loss, helping make up for the absence of Steve Horne, who re-aggravated a groin injury on Saturday.
“I thought my guys played really well today,” Broncos coach David Benoit said, “because we were a little short-handed. But I thought we came back and fought. Tokyo is playing really well, so we’ve got to give them a lot of credit.
“I’m always telling my guys, ‘Always just play till the end. Never give up.’ So I just really appreciate them continuing to fight through even though we are having some tough times right now.”
Also Sunday, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix won their eighth straight game, earning a 94-81 road victory over the Toyama Grouses.
Michael Gardener was the offensive catalyst for Hamamatsu (16-10), finishing with 32 points and 13 assists. Marcus Morrison added 25 points and Stanley Ocitti had a productive 14-point, 12-rebound outing. Sun Ming Ming had his second straight two-point game after a season-high 18 points on Jan. 11.
Jerod Ward led Toyama (7-19) with 25 points.
Backcourt mates Rasheed Sparks and Yu Okada guided the Takamatsu Five Arrows to an 86-70 home win over the Rizing Fukuoka.
Sparks had 18 points and 10 assists and Okada added 13 points and eight assists as the Five Arrows improved to 17-9. George Leach scored 14 points and Kazuyuki Nakagawa was one of four players with 13.
The three-time defending champion Osaka Evessa picked up a 79-75 win over the visiting Oita HeatDevils.
Lynn Washington paced the Evessa (17-9) with 22 points. Nile Murry (14 points), Naoto Nakamura (11) and Ryuichi Horikawa (10) also scored in double digits.
Frontcourt standouts Chris Ayer and Jeff Newton combined for 50 points in the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ 91-78 home win over the Shiga Lakestars.
Ayer had a season-high 28 points on 13-for-18 shooting (five dunks). Newton added 15 rebounds and four assists to help Ryukyu (21-5) earn a series split.
Bobby Nash finished with 24 points for Shiga (11-15).
The Niigata Albirex BB (11-15) outscored the visiting Sendai 89ers by 20 points in the third quarter en route to a 90-65 triumph.
Dokun Akingbade was Niigata’s top scorer (18 points).