Three historic achievements were achieved in the bj-league on Saturday.
The Shimane Susanoo Magic won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, defeating the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix. The Iwate Big Bulls were victorious in their first-ever playoff contest. And the Toyama Grouses, who were 0-4 in previous playoff games, picked up their first postseason win.
It was the first full day of playoff action, a day after the Susanoo Magic and Phoenix ushered in the 2012-13 postseason before a festival holiday crowd in the Chugoku region.
Susanoo Magic 82, Phoenix 73
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, coach Zeljko Pavlicevic’s team grabbed the early momentum and led 26-9 after one quarter, then held off last season’s championship runnerup squad to book a spot in the Western Conference semifinals.
Shimane (35-19, including two playoff triumphs) will travel to face the No. 2 seed Rizing Fukuoka (34-18), who had a first-round bye, next Saturday and Sunday.
Star forward Michael Parker paced the Magic with 18 points along with 10 rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block in almost 35 minutes of court time. Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic said Parker’s usual all-around effort played a big part in the team’s success on Saturday. Parker played four seasons with Fukuoka before joining Shimane for the 2011-12 season. Brandon Freeman had 17 points, including 8-for-9 at the free-throw line. Tatsuhiro Yokoo poured in 16 points, sinking 4 of 5 3-point shots and grabbing two steals in the series finale.
Shimane, the No. 3 seed, produced stellar shooting numbers from 3-point range (8-for-17), from inside the arc (23-for-43) and at the free-throw line (12-for-14).
Big man Jeral Davis, who blocked seven shots in the series opener, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and a block in Game 2. Koki Yabuuchi, a member of the Susanoo Magic since their inception in 2010, had nine points and seven assists, while Edward Yamamoto, another third-year player, had five points off the bench. Post player B.J. Puckett contributed six points and four rebounds.
In a phone interview a few hours after the game, Pavlicevic, who has led the team since Day One, called the series triumph “very important for the psychology of the team.”
Noting that his team was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round in the past two seasons, the veteran coach admitted more than a few fans had doubts about the team entering this series.
Now, Pavlicevic said, “I’m very happy.”
The Croatian mentor will give his players two days off before the Magic return to the court on Tuesday to prepare for the Rizing.
“We have a chance, and they have a chance to go to Ariake (Colosseum),” he added, referring to the Final Four, scheduled for May 18-19.
Shimane took a commanding 43-27 advantage into the locker room at halftime. But Hamamatsu (28-26) rallied in the third quarter, outscoring the hosts 28-14 to pull within 57-55 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Using a European-style tall lineup — four players more than 200 cm — in Kevin Galloway, Jeffrey Parmer, Elbert Fuqua and Japan national team center Atsuya Ota for stretches of the game, the Phoenix defense provided a tough challenge for the Susanoo Magic, Pavlicevic said.
“It was difficult to make shots, difficult to get shots with that zone (in place),” Pavlicevic said.
For No. 6 Hamamatsu, Fuqua was the high scorer with 20 points and eight rebounds and Shinnosuke Oishi and Kevin Galloway had 14 points apiece, Jeffrey Parmer scored eight and Masahiro Oguchi and Ota both finished with seven. Galloway grabbed 13 rebounds, and had two steals. He was held to one assist after averaging 6.0 per game, the third-best total in the league, during the regular season. Hamamatsu shot 4-for-18 from 3-point range and 21-for-45 on 2-point shots.
The 200-cm Galloway, a swingman who often controls the tempo as a point forward, was a focal point for Shimane’s defense, and Pavlicevic chose to mix up the coverage on him, using speed as a key element of the strategy. Shooting guard Yasuhisa Hikino, a 187-cm veteran, spent time defending Galloway in the first half. Later on, Kazuya “J.” Hatano, one of the league’s most experienced Japanese forwards, defended Galloway, too. The combinations used on Galloway limited him to seven points and zero assists before intermission.
“I respect him very, very much,” Pavlicevic said of Galloway, pointing out he concocted Saturday’s defensive game plan with the versatile star as a primary focus.
Though Davis didn’t replicate his shot-blocking total from Friday, his size (216 cm) and defensive positioning were keys to keeping Hamamatsu in check.
At the same time, Parker and Freeman made timely shots, with Freeman’s dribble-drive penetration sparking the offense and giving him opportunities at the line. His four assists “were important,” Pavlicevic said, adding that Yamamoto’s two baskets came at “big moments for us” when the team needed a lift.
Hamamatsu advanced to the Final Four in each of the past four seasons. Now, in the Phoenix’s first season since moving to the Western Conference, they’ll not participate in the season’s final weekend at Ariake.
“First of all, I’d like to congratulate the Susanoo Magic club,” Phoenix coach Tomoya Higashino told The Japan Times. “Their boosters performed a great role in the series as if we played against a thousand players. I wish we could have (had) the advantage at our home court.
“We were missing something that we haven’t been able to accomplish as a team during our season, where Shimane has developed a great deal of team trust in these three years under Coach Zeljko,” added Higashino, who took over as Hamamatsu coach on Feb. 28, replacing Ryuji Kawai.
“We’ll take this experience as our benchmark and we’ll only keep developing our teamwork for next season.”
Big Bulls 79, Northern Happinets 74
In Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, Carlos Dixon scored 23 points, Reggie Okosa added 16 and Naoto Takushi dished out six assists to lead the hosts to a Game 1 victory over Akita in their Tohoku playoff derby.
Lawrence Blackledge had a 12-point game for Iwate, which went 34-18 in the regular season and won 15 more games than it did as an Eastern Conference expansion team in 2011-12.
Coach Dai Oketani’s Big Bulls forced 18 turnovers. They were also credited with nine steals, including two apiece from Okosa, Masato Tsukino, and Dixon.
Tsukino contributed nine points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 33 productive minutes, and Kenichi Takahashi knocked down a pair of 3s in an eight-point afternoon for No. 4 seed Iwate.
The Northern Happinets, the No. 5 seed, received a triple-double from Marshall Brown (15 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) and a 27-point outing from former University of Michigan player Dion Harris, who drained 7 of 14 3-pointers.
Akita attempted 40 3s (17 makes) and went 13-for-27 from inside the arc.
Rookie guard Yuki Togashi had 18 points, nine assists and three steals in his playoff debut. Teammate Mike Anderson scored nine points.
Iwate led 28-18 after one quarter and 52-40 at the break. The game was tied 61-61 after three quarters.
After Sunday’s Game 2 (and potential mini-tiebreaker, if necessary), the winner will advance to face the host Niigata Albirex BB, the Eastern Conference regular-season champion, next weekend in the second round.
Grouses 97, Jets 77
In Uozu, Toyama Prefecture, the Grouses took a 15-point lead into the second quarter and maintained their poise against No. 6 seed Chiba for a Game 1 triumph.
Toyama shot 57.9 percent on 2s (33-for-57). Four players had quality shooting efforts from inside the arc: Ira Brown (9-for-12, 21 points overall), Jeremy Jacob (8-for-14, 18 points), Angel Garcia (7-for-11, 17 points) and Takeshi Mito (5-for-6, 16 points).
Brown grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Garcia was the leading passer with five assists, while Masashi Joho and Mito each had four. Mitsuhiro Kamezaki led the way with three assists, followed by Mito and Garcia with two apiece.
Though the No. 3 seed Grouses shot 7-for-18 at the free-throw line, coach Bob Nash’s club also disrupted the Chiba offense throughout the game, forcing 21 turnovers. The Grouses had 21 assists and 10 turnovers.
In addition, Tatsunori Fujie canned three 3-pointers for all of his points for Toyama, which entered halftime with a 52-38 advantage.
For the Jets, Marquin Chandler scored 24 points, with half of them coming on 3s. Joe Werner finished with 21 points and 13 boards and D’Andre Bell scored 16 points. Marquise Gray had nine points. The rest of the team had seven points.
Chiba coach Shinji Tomiyama’s club needs a win in Game 2 on Sunday to force a mini-tiebreaker after the contest. The East’s No. 2 seed, Yokohama B-Corsairs, play host to the series winner next Friday and Saturday.
Hannaryz 79, Lakestars 69
In Yasu, Shiga Prefecture, big man Marcus Cousin had a 20-point, 15-rebound, two-block performance and Masaharu Kataoka scored 18 points to lead West No. 5 Kyoto to a road win over its Kansai rival in the series opener.
David Palmer contributed 17 points, Jermaine Boyette scored 11 and Yu Okada had nine for Hannaryz coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s squad.
Kyoto held a 47-43 edge in rebounds in a contest that was too close for comfort for either squad.
Shiga, the No. 4 seed, led 19-17 after the opening quarter and 38-36 at halftime.
The Hannaryz took a 54-53 lead into the final period before scoring 25 points over the final 10 minutes to secure the Game 1 win.
Shelton Colwell paced the Lakestars with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds. Dionisio Gomez added 13 points and Wayne Arnold scored 11. Daiki Terashita had seven points and Yutaka Yokoe finished with six. Jumpei Nakama had four points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Both teams shot 5-for-20 from 3-point range.
The series will be decided on Sunday, and the winner books a spot in the West semifinals next weekend against the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings in Okinawa.
Season leaders: The regular-season statistical leaders were as follows:
Scoring — John Humphrey (Saitama), 27.1 points per game.
Rebounding — Chris Holm (Niigata), 14.5.
Assists — Takehiko Shimura (Sendai), 6.3
Blocked shots — Jeral Davis (Shimane), 3.5.
Steals — Michael Parker (Shimane), 2.3.
3-point shooting — Masayuki Kabaya (Yokohama), 43.4 percent.
Free-throw shooting — David Palmer (Kyoto), 89.5 percent.
Field-goal shooting — Dillion Sneed (Iwate), 60.8 percent.
Dunks — Edward Morris (Shinshu), 1.6 per game.
Minutes — Yuki Kitamuki (Saitama), 2,005.