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Broncos find shooting touch in win over Crane Thunders

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

It was only fitting that in a city that means green in Japanese, both teams’ offense had the perpetual green light in this entertaining, up-tempo bj-league series.

The green light especially signaled a quick-strike offense from the perimeter.

Or as John Humphrey, the Saitama Broncos’ veteran spark plug, told reporters, “If you’re open, shoot it.”

That has been Broncos coach Tracy Williams’ message all season, and in the pivotal fourth quarter on Sunday his players, led by Humphrey, found their shooting rhythm to finish in impressive form in a 103-91 victory over the Gunma Crane Thunders.

Humphrey scored 12 of his team-high 34 points in the fourth quarter.

A 15-4 spurt in the final period propelled Saitama to its second win in as many days.

The teams entered the game with identical records. Saitama is now 13-33. Gunma fell to 12-34.

Humphrey’s energy and on-court presence — many of his 16 defensive rebounds (19 boards overall) often triggered the team’s offense — proved essential on the afternoon, when the Crane Thunders were relentless and never more than couple 3-pointers from seizing momentum.

But Gunma never forced Saitama to abandon its 2-3 zone defense — protecting the paint is a top priority, Williams said, citing the plan to deny letting Jermaine Dixon the opportunity for excursions into the lane — and the hosts simply didn’t make enough 3s in either game over the weekend. They were 14 of 48 in the series finale after making 16 of 57 on Saturday.

Gunma coach Ryan Blackwell said he has confidence in his players to knock down 3-pointers, and added that even though they took a greater number than usual, the opportunities were there to take the long shots. Saitama played effective defense in the paint, Blackwell said.

But in the series finale, the Crane Thunders were not facing a giant comeback after one quarter. On Saturday, Gunma trailed 41-13 at that point.

Sunday’s game was tight throughout with both teams playing at a fast pace, the Broncos leading 49-45 at halftime.

By that point, Dixon had excited the first-year franchise’s fans with 21 first-half points and four 3s. Humphrey and his teammates held Dixon in check in the second half, and he finished with 29 points.

Yuki Kitamuki scored 20 points for Saitama, many using his speed on layups. Nyika Williams added 17 and Masahide Haraguchi 15.

Humphrey was the energizer, but Williams crashed the boards and got dunks, putbacks and second chances for his club, and drew high praise from his coach. He hauled in 18 rebounds, nine offensive.

Shingo Okada and Kenya Tomori had 14 and 13 points, respectively, for Gunma.

“It was an exciting game,” said Blackwell. “Credit Saitama, they hit a lot of big shots.”

Note: Look for a full recap/analysis of Sunday’s games on Tuesday on The Japan Times website.