TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – After a one-point triumph in the series opener, the Saitama Broncos reverted to form in a lopsided loss to the Niigata Albirex BB to close out their seventh consecutive non-winning season since the bj-league’s inception in 2005.
It was a tight first quarter, but then momentum shifted dramatically as Niigata coach Matt Garrison’s club began to dominate all facets of the contest.
Sharpshooter Shuhei Komatsu sparked the Albirex with 17 second-quarter points — his entire scoring load for the afternoon — and the visitors seized control of Sunday’s game in the second half en route to a 95-54 whipping of the Broncos at Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium.
Niigata finished the regular season with a 28-24 record, and now prepares for its seventh straight trip the playoffs; Saitama, meanwhile, faces a likely offseason shakeup after a rocky 16-36 campaign (worst record in the 10-team Eastern Conference), including a 12-29 record under bench boss Natalie Nakase, who replaced Dean Murray in November.
“We seemed a little fatigued after yesterday’s game,” Nakase said.
She praised her players for their dedication and hard work throughout the season.
“I wouldn’t want to go to battle with anybody but these 12 guys,” the former UCLA guard said. “I’m so proud of them for their effort.”
John “Helicopter” Humphrey was named Saitama’s player of the year and received enthusiastic applause from the fans after the game.
“I’m honored to be selected as player of the year for the Broncos,” he said after an 18-point performance.
Jayme Miller scored 14 points and grabbed six boards for Saitama, while Daiki Terashita contributed nine points. The Broncos shot 2-for-15 from 3-point range.
The Albirex, on the other hand, were 13-for-23 from beyond the arc, including Kimitake Sato’s 4-for-7. Sato led Niigata with 19 points, Erron Maxey scored 15, hauled in 13 rebounds and collected four steals. Dwight Gordon and Yuichi Ikeda both had 10 points and bj-league rebounding king Chris Holm scored eight and pulled down 13 boards.
After taking a 47-32 lead into the locker room at halftime, Niigata ended any chance Saitama may have had for a big comeback, outscoring the hosts 20-8 in the third quarter.
It was 67-40 entering the final stanza.
By that point, the Albirex’s inside-outside offensive attack and defensive intensity had given them an overwhelming advantage.
“You always want to end the regular season on a high note,” said Maxey, a Providence product, “but the playoffs are a whole other animal.”
Watching the action from the bench in the first quarter, Komatsu, who buried 7 of 10 3s against the Shiga Lakestars on April 22, put his mark on the game in a hurry in the second quarter.
Curling off screens to get open or taking straight-up jumpers, Komatsu buried 5 of 5 3s in the quarter. Blessed with a quick release and a smooth shooting stroke, Komatsu heated up in a hurry.
“That’s what he does — he shoots 3s,” Maxey said. “He’s a great shooter, and when he knocks down two or three in a row, you know he’s going to make the next three. So it’s a matter of feeding him the ball if he’s hot, and that’s also playing simple basketball. If he’s got the hot hand out there, keep going to him until he cools off.”
Garrison said Komatsu’s shooting display was impressive. He also credited his players for their defensive desire, which was an across-the-board performance.
Indeed, he said, the Albirex wanted to enter the postseason with a victory. Bouncing back from Saturday’s defeat was the goal, and he kept the message simple beforehand.
“Defensively, it’s strictly heart, intensity and urgency,” Garrison said.
“We’ll have to come out and fight today; that was really all we talked about,” he reminded his players before the game.
Limiting Terashita’s opportunities to penetrate in the lane and out-rebounding Saitama (49-38) led to fewer second-chance attempts for the Broncos were other keys to victory, said Garrison, a former Albirex player in his first season at the helm.
Big Bulls 97, Jets 82
In Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, Thomas Kennedy had 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists and Gordon Klaiber notched a double-double as the hosts finished their inaugural season with a series sweep.
Klaiber scored 20 points and hauled in 11 rebounds, while Jamal Boykin added 17 points, Shawn Malloy contributed 15 points and 13 boards and Atsushi Nogami poured in nine points for Iwate (19-33).
Jamel Staten paced Chiba (18-34) with 27 points, as well as contributing 12 boards and nine assists. Gaston Moliva had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Hiroki Sato finished with nine points.
“Chapter one of the Chiba Jets is in the books,” Jets coach Eric Gardow said after the game.
“With us winning 18 games, I believe we over-achieved expectations in our first year as an expansion team compared to Okinawa’s first year only winning 10 games,” he added, referring to the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ 10-34 campaign in 2007-08.
“The players all have earned valuable experiences that should propel them into key players next season with a strong commitment to their offseason.
“Every one of my Japanese players had their best performances of their career at some point this season in a Chiba Jets uniform and for that I am extremely thankful. . .”
B-Corsairs 63, 89ers 58
In Sendai, Yokohama completed its second straight sweep over the 89ers in as many weeks and picked up its ninth consecutive victory to close out the regular season.
MVP candidate Justin Burrell had 16 points and eight rebounds for the expansion B-Corsairs (31-21), Draelon Burns and Masayuki Kabaya each scored 13 points apiece and Yokohama converted 12 of 14 free throws. Burns dished out five assists.
The 89ers (25-27) shot a woeful 17-for-63 from the field, including 5-for-25 on 3-pointers.
Sendai’s Dan Fitzgerald, who needed stitches in his head after hard contact a day earlier, scored a team-high 21 points, but was 3-for-10 on 3s. Teammate Johnny Dukes had 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and also turned the ball over six times. Takuya Komoda scored nine points on 3-for-11 shooting.
The 89ers made two spirited comebacks, but fell short in the end. Trailing 47-37, they closed it to 53-51 and 60-58 in the final 2:33.
“Losing isn’t much fun, but the players showed a lot of character battling twice against a tough opponent,” said Sendai coach Bob Pierce, who’ll be the first bench boss in league history to guide three teams into the postseason. He previously coached the Shiga Lakestars, and most recently, the Akita Northern Happinets.
Sendai captain Takehiko Shimura, one of the league’s better point guards, returned to the rotation after missing practiced this past week. He had sustained a head injury in the April 21 game against the Yokohama B-Corsairs in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
“He played limited minutes in the two games,” Pierce noted, citing Shimura’s 18- and 15-minute outings, “but now we should have him back full time for the playoffs, where everybody is now 0-0.”
Golden Kings 75, Grouses 63
In Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, Dillion Sneed, Naoto Kosuge and David Palmer each had 14-point outings as Ryukyu cruised past the hosts.
Palmer canned 3 of 4 3-point shots and Tsubasa Yonamine kept the high-power offense rolling, distributing the ball with precision passes (six assists).
Four-time title-winning big man Jeff Newton contributed 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Golden Kings (39-13), who repeated as the Western Conference regular-season champion.
Speedy guard Narito Namizato did a little bit of everything — six points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals — for the Kings.
For Toyama (25-27) Devin Searcy and Ira Brown had 13 points apiece, Larry Turner scored 10 and Masashi Joho nine.
The Grouses’ poor free-throw shooting (11-for-21) was a key factor in the loss.
Rizing 77, Hannaryz 70
In Fukuoka, the one-two punch of Carlos Dixon and Kevin Palmer guided the hosts to a season-ending win over Kyoto.
Dixon was the Rizing’s top scorer with 24 points and Palmer supplied 22. Jermaine Dearman had 10 points and macho forward Gary Hamilton raked in 17 rebounds and scored seven points as Fukuoka improved to 33-19.
Kyoto struggled from the perimeter, missing 14 of 16 3-point shots. Jermaine Boyette led the Hannaryz (34-18) with 18 points, Rick Rickert had 14 points and 15 rebounds and Taizo Kawabe scored 10.
Susanoo Magic 81, Shining Suns 54
In Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, scoring maestro Michael Parker had a team-high 18 points and three Shimane teammates also reached double figures in points in a win over the hosts.
Edward Yamamoto contributed 17 points, Jeral Davis produced an 11-point, 14-rebound, five-block performance and Micah Williams scored 11 for the Magic.
Shimane (28-24) sank 17 of 20 free throws and held a 51-38 edge in rebounds.
Dexter Lyons scored 20 points for Miyazaki (22-30), Lewis Witcher finished with 10 and Shinnosuke Oishi had nine. Taishiro Shimizu provided five assists for the second-year franchise.
Phoenix 90, Brave Warriors 72
In Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the two-time defending champions’ Big Three carried their club to a runaway victory.
Jermaine Dixon scored 29 points, Wayne Arnold had 22 points and six assists and Jeffrey Parmer chipped in with 18 points and nine boards for Hamamatsu Higashimikawa (37-15). Atsuya Ota finished with seven points and nine rebounds.
Lee Roberts paced Shinshu with 24 points and 10 boards. Derek Raivio had 14 points and five assists for the Warriors, who completed their inaugural season with an 18-34 record.
Evessa 92, Lakestars 79
In Osaka, Masashi Obuchi had a game-high 17 points and Mike Bell contributed 16 points and 12 boards as the Evessa shellacked Shiga.
Wayne Marshall scored 15 points and Shota Konno had 14 for Osaka (35-17).
“We need to maintain the same focus and energy for the playoffs,” Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell said.
Josh Peppers led Shiga (33-19) with 19 points, ex-Evessa forward Kazuya “J.” Hatano had 13 points and Ray Nixon netted 11.
HeatDevils 106, Five Arrows 52
In Takamatsu, leading scorer Paul Butorac and guard Keishiro Tsutsumi sat out the season finale with injuries and the Five Arrows suffered their 25th straight loss.
Takamatsu (2-50) trailed 30-12 after one quarter and 55-21 entering the second half.
The Five Arrows had a horrible shooting afternoon: 0-for-15 on 3s, 20-for-67 from inside the arc and 12-for-22 at the charity stripe.
Nyika Williams was the high scorer for Takamatsu with 32 points and Masaaki Suzuki added 10.
T.J. Cummings led Oita (23-29) with 33 points and Matt Lottich scored 23. Wendell White added 16 points, 15 rebounds and five assists and Naoto Takushi had 10 assists.
Playoff pairings for the conference first-round series and conference semifinals have been announced for the East and West.
In the East, third-place Akita plays host to sixth-place Sendai on May 5 and 6, while fourth-place Niigata takes on fifth-place Toyama on those days.
First-place Hamamatsu will face the lower-seeded winner May 12 and 13. Second-place Yokohama will square off against the higher-seeded advancing club on May 10 and 11.
In the West, third-place Kyoto meets sixth-place Shimane on May 5 and 6, while fourth-place Shiga faces fifth-place Fukuoka on the same dates.
Ryukyu gets a bye into the conference semis, and will meet the lower of the two advancing seeds, with Osaka waiting to meet the higher-seeded first-round playoff winner. Both series are set to hold games on May 12 and 13.
The Final Four is scheduled for May 19 and 20 at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum.