The Niigata Albirex torched the Sendai 89ers in Sunday’s season finale and collected their first-ever Eastern Conference regular-season title.
The final score — Niigata 109, Sendai 63 — was a mere formality.
The game had been decided by halftime. The 89ers trailed 54-21 at that point.
All-Star center Chris Holm delivered a sensational performance for the Albirex (36-16), finishing with 24 points on 9-for-11 shooting, 19 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Frontcourt mate Rodney Webb added 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting and 12 boards.
With the euphoria of victory on his mind, Webb expressed his thoughts on the season via a Facebook post.
“(We) became conference champs today,” Webb wrote. “We worked hard for this accomplishment, but it’s not the final goal we set. Playoff time is what we worked hard for and I’m ready to fight to the finals with my fellow teammates and friends. . .”
Niigata earned a first-round playoff bye and will be back in action on May 11-12 against the lower seeded East team that advances from the opening round of the playoffs.
First-round East playoff matchups are:
■ No. 3 Toyama Grouses vs. No. 6 Chiba Jets on May 4-5.
■ No.4 Iwate Big Bulls vs. No. 5 Akita Northern Happinets on May 4-5.
Albirex guard Shuhei Komatsu went 4-for-4 from 3-point range in a 15-point afternoon and Kimitake Sato and Taj Finger each scored 13 points. Hirotaka Kondo had eight points and handed out six assists. Niigata had 10 players with one or more assists, 26 helpers in total in the conference championship-clinching game.
T.J Cummings paced the 89ers (20-32) with 22 points. Sam Willard had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Takuya Komoda scored 12 points. Sendai missed all 14 of its 3-point shots.
Golden Kings 91, Evessa 78
In Osaka, Ryukyu established a league record for victories, picking up No. 42 on the final day of the season against its archrival.
The defending champion Golden Kings (42-10) have a bye into the second round of the playoffs, a May 11-12 showdown against the lower-seeded Western first-round playoff winner to advance to the conference semifinals.
The first-round West playoff matchups are:
■ No. 3 Shimane Susanoo Magic vs. No. 6 Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix on May 3-4.
■ No. 4 Shiga Lakestars vs. No. 5 Kyoto Hannaryz on May 4-5.
Ryukyu went 41-11 en route to its first championship in 2008-09, and that record was matched by Hamamatsu the next season.
Anthony McHenry had 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Kings. Naoto Kosuge and Morihisa Yamauchi scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, the former draining four 3s and the latter knocking down five.
Narito Namizato had 16 points and seven assists and Dzaflo Larkai supplied 11 points and 11 boards for the victors.
Osaka finished 22-30. After a 5-19 start under Zoran Kreckovic and Tako Furuya, ex-Chicago Bulls bench boss Bill Cartwright steered the team in the right direction. The Evessa went 17-11 in Cartwright’s 28 games this season.
Rick Rickert had 17 points and 12 boards for Osaka, Nathan Walkup scored 13, Dwayne Lathan had 11 and Shota Konno 10. Mike Bell raked in 10 rebounds.
B-Corsairs 109, Broncos 80
In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, MVP candidate Draelon Burns scored 33 points and hauled in 13 rebounds and Thomas Kennedy added 22 points and eight boards as Yokohama hammered the hosts for the second time in as many days.
The B-Corsairs (35-17) secured the East’s No.2 seed for the playoffs, and the second-year franchise has a bye into the second round. Yokohama will next play host to the East’s higher seeded first-round playoff series winner on May 10 and 11.
Masayuki Kabaya contributed 19 points and Shawn Malloy had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the B-Corsairs, who led 53-43 at the half.
Yokohama pulled away in the third quarter by outscoring the hosts 30-15.
Saitama (15-37) ended its eighth straight season below .500. The Broncos have never qualified for postseason play since the launch of the bj-league in 2005 despite being one of two franchises to defect from the JBL ranks and start the upstart circuit along with four other expansion teams.
John “Helicopter” Humphrey led the Broncos with 25 points. Takuma Yamashiro scored 14 points and Nyika Williams had 13.
After the game, B-Corsairs sideline supervisor Reggie Geary, the 2011-12 Coach of the Year, reflected on the long season and the franchise’s many accomplishments to date.
“Great win today,” were the words he used to sum up the victory.
“The entire team played hard and together to secure second place in our division and a first-round bye. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys for the tremendous spirit and heart they’ve shown all season.
“In only our second year in existence as an organization we finished second in our division for a second time and have put ourselves in a good position to make another run at Ariake.
“The Big Three of Kabaya, Draelon Burns, and Thomas Kenney were focused and productive all weekend combining in the two games for 170 points. The entire team is executing and competing at a high level and looks ready for the playoffs.
“Hopefully this historic weekend for Kabaya with 39 points in the first game (believed to be league record for Japanese players, topping a 38-point effort by Cohey Aoki), 12 3s in one game (record), and finishing the season No. 1 in 3-point field-goal percentage in the league will finally solidify him as one of the best guards in the bj-league.
“This regular season has truly been a journey, beginning in Taiwan in the pre-season, through a number of good winning streaks throughout the season, and a tough period dealing with an injuries has us finally at a place where I feel we’re playing some of our best ball,” Geary added.
Rizing 85, Big Bulls 81
In Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, Josh Peppers scored 20 points and Julius Ashby came up big in the season finale with 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots for the Rizing in a bounce-back victory over Iwate.
Fukuoka (34-18) secured the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs and a bye into the conference semis on May 11-12 vs. the higher seed of the two first-round series winners.
Iwate (34-17), which had a 15-win improvement over its 2011-12 inaugural season, was led by Dillion Sneed’s 16-point, eight-rebound, four-assist effort. Reggie Okosa and Kenichi Takahashi scored 14 points apiece and Masato Tsukino and Lawrence Blackledge both had 10 points. Tsukino dished out six assists.
Grouses 91, Brave Warriors 76
In Chikuma, Nagano Prefecture, Masashi Joho sparked Toyama to a win over Shinshu, knocking down 4 of 5 3-point shots and scoring a team-high 24 points as the Grouses completed a series sweep.
Under first-year coach Bob Nash, Toyama (35-17) had its best regular-season win total since joining the bj-league in 2006.
Joho had six assists and four steals. Ira Brown finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals for the Grouses. Jeremy Jacob scored 17 points. Tatsunori Fujie sank 5 of 9 3s in a 15-point outing and Takeshi Mito had 11 points and four steals.
Jermaine Green had 22 points with 12 rebounds for Shinshu (17-35). Edward Morris scored 18 points and Michael Fey had 14 for the Brave Warriors.
Phoenix 80, Hannaryz 71
In Hamamatsu, Shunsuke Oishi scored 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting to lead the Phoenix past Kyoto.
With Jeffrey Parmer and Tsubasa Yonezawa out with injuries, Atsuya Ota (16 points, seven rebounds), Kevin Galloway (14 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists), Masahiro Oguchi (14 points) and Elbert Fuqua (nine points) stepped for Hamamatsu (28-24).
Gyno Pomare was the Hannaryz’s top scorer with 19 points. Yu Okada chipped in with 14 points and seven assists and David Palmer pumped in 12 points. Kyoto, which opened the season with eight straight losses, finished with a 29-23 record.
Jets 92, Crane Thunders 79
In Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, Kensuke Tanaka directed the Chiba offense effectively, handing out 12 assists in a win over the hosts.
D’Andre Bell scored a team-best 27 points for the Jets (26-26) and Joe Werner had 19 points with 11 rebounds. Marquise Gray added 12 points.
Gunma (14-38) ended its inaugural season on a disappointing note — the Crane Thunders won on Saturday — but coach Ryan Blackwell is happy with the overall direction the team is headed in.
“I wasn’t at our last game today because of medical reasons but I know we had a 12-point lead in the third quarter and it was close until the last few minutes,” Blackwell told The Japan Times. “We played well both days and were able to get the split this weekend. I’m happy the way we ended the season for the most part. Overall we improved every week and set a foundation to build upon for next season.”
Jermaine Dixon had 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Gunma. Randy Orr scored 16 points, Lewis Witcher had 14, Dominique Keller poured in nine and Kenya Tomori and Yuto Okumoto each had eight.
Lakestars 91, Susanoo Magic 75
In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, Dionisio Gomez and Shelton Colwell combined for 47 points to carry the Lakestars past Shimane against playoff-bound squads.
After Shimane (33-19) won the series opener, Shiga was the more effective team in the rematch.
Gomez was 9-for-13 from the field in a 25-point performance and Colwell scored 22. Takamichi Fujiwara had 17 points, Jumpei Nakama scored 11 and Yutaka Yokoe added nine points and six assists for the Lakestars (32-20).
For Shimane, Jeral Davis topped the scoring chart with 21 points and B.J. Puckett had 17. Edward Yamamoto scored 13 points and Tatsuhiro Yokoo had 10. Leading scorer Michael Parker was held to three points on 1-for-5 shooting.
Cinq Reves 82, Northern Happinets 75
In Akita, before a spirited crowd of 4,055, Northern Happinets guard Makoto Hasegawa, a 42-year-old fan favorite, made his final appearance before the home fans. Playing almost 4 minutes, Hasegawa missed a pair of shots and was called for a personal foul in a loss to Tokyo.
Ricky Woods had 29 points and 12 boards for the expansion Cinq Reves (18-34), while Cohey Aoki closed out the seaosn with an 18-point effort.
Jared Carter scored 11 points with 15 rebound and two blocks and Chris Sasaki had 11 points and four assists.
Rookie guard Yuki Togashi had 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Happinets (26-26), and Dion Harris also scored 19. Marshall Brown chipped in with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Shigehiro Taguchi scored 11 points.