The Osaka Evessa have dethroned the Ryukyu Golden Kings.
They did it with a stifling zone defense and all-out hustle on offense, relying on experienced players to take charge.
Ryukyu’s shockingly bad shooting game was a major factor in its defeat, an 84-65 loss to Osaka in the bj-league’s Western Conference final on Saturday at Ariake Colosseum.
Evessa forward Lynn Washington, a two-time MVP who was overlooked for this year’s Best Five Team, scored a game-high 26 points in 26 minutes and shared the team-high number in rebounds (eight) with David Palmer and Jason Klotz.
“It was a great defensive effort,” said Washington, who showed fierce determination to carry his team to victory against its top rival. “We were able to stop them from scoring. Most importantly, we stopped Jeff (Newton) from scoring 50 points.
“After the All-Star Game, our zone defense has been really good,” he added. “Everything has been running smoothly since the All-Star Game.”
The proof is in the numbers: Osaka is 25-4 since the All-Star break, including three playoff wins.
Palmer, another former league MVP, finished with 23 points in 27 minutes.
Osaka improved to 5-4 against the defending champions this season, making 23 of 27 free throws to secure the victory.
The Golden Kings, the champions in their second season in 2008-09, shot 20-for-69 from the field, including 5-for-33 from 3-point range. They also shot 20-for-33 at the free-throw line.
Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi said his team’s focus was strong for this game.
“The offense and defense were both strong today,” he added, calling the defense “super.”
Osaka point guard Jun Nakanishi credited Tennichi with concocting a smart game plan for his team.
“Usually, we start off with man-to-man defense and then switch to the zone,” Nakanishi said. “Today, we started off with the zone . . . (and) that confused them a bit.”
The Evessa kept Ryukyu guessing, using 2-3 and 3-2 zones, and the defending champions’ timing on offense never really recovered.
“It seemed like they struggled attacking our zone,” Nakanishi said, adding that his team’s defense jumpstarts its offense.
Moments after jubilant players started walking out of the locker room, Nakanishi took time to reflect on Washington’s impact this season.
“Lynn Washington is the best, or one of the best players in the bj-league,” he declared. “He carried the team throughout the season mentally and physically.
“What (else) can I say about him?
“Today, he attacked the basket and carried the team.”
Looking visibly disappointed, Golden Kings coach Dai Oketani said the Evessa took away his team’s offensive rhythm. The team’s reliance on a high-low offensive attack was strong this season, the coach added, but “the better team won today.”
Murry had a terrific game: 15 points, nine assists, six rebounds and two steals for the Evessa. What’s more, he had zero turnovers. (As a team, Osaka had only three turnovers through three quarters.)
“He has improved his ball handling,” Tennichi said of Murry, citing his turnovers have been greatly reduced. “He’s a great point guard now.”
Just reaching the title game represented a conquest of sorts. Both teams have experienced the thrill of winning a championship and did everything in their power to earn a return trip this season.
Returning to the winner-take-all finale was the only mission either team spoke about this season.
After the loss, Newton discussed the team’s lackluster performance.
“We had a little run at the end, but hats off to Osaka for stopping us. They kept their composure,” Newton said after his 12-point, 12-rebound effort.
Newton had 50 points against Osaka in last year’s West final.
Asked about this season compared to last season, he responded by saying, “We had our ups and downs with injuries this year. We just kept fighting. But as far as today’s game goes, we just got outplayed.”
The Golden Kings trailed 65-49 after three quarters and were never a serious threat to rally in the final period. Ryukyu was outscored in each of the four quarters and held to 16 points in three of them.
Anthony McHenry led the Golden Kings with 17 points, Yosuke Sugawara scored 15 and George Leach had 10.
The Evessa took a 43-33 lead into halftime.
Washington was called for a flagrant foul on ex-teammate Newton with 5:02 left in the second quarter, with Washington’s hand striking the back of Newton’s head as he drove to the basket. Moments later, Takada buried a jumper and Palmer’s three put Osaka ahead 39-29.
Palmer and Washington, core teammates on Osaka’s first two title teams, carried the scoring load for much of the opening half. Palmer, who came off the bench, scored 15 first-half points. Washington, a member of all three title teams, finished with eight first-half-points.
The Golden Kings were patient on offense, working the ball on the perimeter. But they missed 11 of 14 3-point attempts in the half. (On the other hand, Osaka was 2-for-7 from 3-point range.)
For Ryukyu, bench play was a big factor in the opening half to keep them in the game. Leach, who didn’t start, had 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting and six rebounds before the break, and Sugawara scored eight. Reigning playoff and regular-season MVP Newton had five points, five boards and two blocks.
In the opening minutes, both teams appeared a bit too tense and missed several shots before they found their rhythm.
Murry sank two free throws and made a driving layup to give Osaka a 4-0 lead and Nakanishi hit two foul shots to increase the lead to 6-0.
Ryukyu answered with an 8-2 run to tie it at 8-8. Palmer had the hot hand as the quarter progressed and finished 4-for-5 from the field in the opening stanza.
Palmer, who played in the NBA Development League two seasons ago, had nine first-quarter points, helping Osaka take a 23-17 lead after one quarter.
In Saturday night’s Eastern Conference final, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix used a strong second-half spurt to run away with a 102-75 victory over the Niigata Albirex BB.
Veteran guard Masahiro Oguchi ignited the Hamamatsu offense, burying 10 of 14 3-point shots and finishing with a season-high 35 points in 32 minutes, as well as four assists and three steals.
Oguchi entered the postseason averaging 6.1 points per game. His previous season-high scoring total was 16 points.
William Knight added 20 points, Wendell White scored 14 and Jermaine Green chipped in with a double-double (13 points, 16 boards).
Hamamatsu, which had 16 more regular-season wins than the Albirex, improved to 8-1 against Niigata this season.
With the victory, the Phoenix advance to their first bj-league title game and face a team they beat in both regular-season meetings.
Tyrone Levett’s 3-pointer gave Niigata a 10-point lead with 9:02 remaining in the third quarter early. Uche Echefu’s pair of free throws made it 56-49 with 4:06 to play in the quarter.
Seconds later, White’s 3-pointer ignited a 32-8 run that put the Phoenix in cruise control en route to the title game. That gave them an 84-64 lead late in the third
Echefu paced Niigata with 20 points and Paul Butorac scored 13. No other Albirex player scored more than eight.
The Albirex took a 42-36 lead into halftime.
Strong 3-point shooting (6-for-11) and effort in the paint carried Niigata in the first two quarters, though the Phoenix held a 24-20 edge after the opening period.
Oguchi, who drained 5 of 7 3s in the half, led all players with 16 first-half points.
Niigata capitalized on its six first-half steals, turning several of them into points at the other end.
White banked in a 3-pointer just a couple steps from halfcourt to cut the Albirex’s lead to six before the buzzer.
As the game progressed, Hamamatsu’s strong rebounding (53-40 edge on the glass) created numerous second-chance scoring opportunities.
The Phoenix’s superb outside shooting — 17-for-32 — kept Niigata in catch-up mode down the stretch.