It took a miraculous comeback to end the Osaka Evessa’s bj-league championship dynasty.
And the central figure in this epic conclusion was none other than Jeff Newton, a winner of three championship rings during his time with Osaka.
Newton scored a league-record 50 points, including 20 in the final quarter, as the Ryukyu Golden Kings earned a 93-87 triumph over Osaka in the Western Conference final on Saturday at Ariake Colosseum.
“I just stayed aggressive. We just played together,” Newton said. “Some way, some how, we got the ball in the hole.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in.”
Ryukyu coach Dai Oketani said, “Before talking about tactics, you have to have all three components in mental strength, talent and physical skills, especially when you play such a strong team like Osaka, which has always been great in the playoffs. I am just so proud that our players never gave up with strong heart today.”
The Golden Kings, who went 41-11 in the regular season after a 10-34 campaign as an expansion team in the 2007-08 season, face the Tokyo Apache in the bj-league championship game on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
The Apache defeated the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix 89-84 in the Eastern Conference final on Saturday evening.
“It’s a shame that we lost but it was a great game and we could prove that we were still a championship contender,” Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi lamented.
Trailing 82-67 after Osaka point guard Nile Murry nailed a 3-pointer with 8:49 to play, the Golden Kings outscored the Evessa 28-5 to end the game.
“We don’t have any players that give up a game at the start of the fourth quarter,” Ryukyu point guard Naoto Takushi said. “. . .We just kept being patient throughout the game and it worked out well in the end.”
The Ryukyu comeback began with an Anthony McHenry layup, followed by a Newton 3-pointer from the left baseline. As the momentum and intensity continued for the Golden Kings, the big fellow’s three-point play cut it to 84-76 with 3:52 remaining.
“Once the momentum changed, we couldn’t get it back,” Murry said.
The Evessa shot 3-for-15 from the field and had four of their eight turnovers in the pivotal final period.
A Chris Ayer dunk made it a five-point game, 84-79, with 3:40 remaining. Shigeyuki Kinjo’s 3-pointer trimmed the lead to 84-82, and the Golden Kings took an 89-87 lead, their first of the half, on Newton’s step-back 3, reminiscent of a shot from a playground game of H-O-R-S-E, with 30 seconds left.
Newton, who was 8-for-8 from the charity stripe, scored the game’s final four points at the line.
“We were complacent offensively in the fourth quarter,” Blackwell said. “We were up 17, then we played too much one-on-one and not enough intensity.
“We should have made the plays to win the game.”
Murry, who had 24 points and made all five of his 3-point attempts, fouled out with 3:27 remaining in the game. The Evessa missed his play-making skills down the stretch.
“That was really huge,” Newton said of Murray’s disqualification. “He was controlling the game.”
In addition to 50 points on 20-for-32 shooting from the field, Newton had a game-high 19 rebounds, six assists, five blocked shots and two steals.
“It’s the most points I’ve ever scored at any level,” Newton said.
No block was bigger than Newton’s well-timed stuff of Blackwell’s left-handed drive with 58 seconds left. The Evessa led 87-86 at that point.
Oh yeah, that performance was a reminder that Newton was the league’s 2008-09 MVP.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s title game after a career outing, Newton said he’s not worried about the energy level needed to come back on a short night’s rest.
“This is what we live for, playing in the championship game,” he said.
Blackwell had 27 points to lead the Evessa, while two-time league MVP Lynn Washington scored 20 and grabbed 19 boards. Shota Konno finished with 13 points, but only two in the final quarter.
“In terms of percentages, we didn’t get the calls we should have,” Washington said. “In the third quarter, the refs were giving them the calls that we should’ve gotten . . but really it should’ve have mattered because we were up by 17.”
Takushi had 11 rebounds and six assists despite a tough game shooting-wise (0-for-7 from the field, 3-for-6 from the line). Ayer had a 20-point game (three dunks) and McHenry had 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and three blocks.
In the Eastern Conference final, the Apache led from start to finish, earning a second consecutive trip to the title game.
John Humphrey had a team-best 19 points for Tokyo, while Dameion Baker added 16, Nick Davis 14, Masashi Joho 12 and Cohey Aoki 11.
Stanley Ocitti led Hamamatsu with 22 points. The Phoenix committed 24 turnovers, including 11 by point guard Michael Gardener.
Tokyo made 16 steals, led by Tizzo Johnson’s five and Davis’ four.
Noteworthy: Newton, who wears jersey No. 50, topped the previous record of 49 points set by Leonard Hopkins of the Oita HeatDevils on Nov. 5, 2005.