Despite a dreadful 0-8 start to their season in the fall, the Kyoto Hannaryz never pushed the panic button.
Coach Honoo Hamaguchi, a demanding coach who sees the big picture, recognized that his team needed time to develop into a cohesive unit, especially since a number of key newcomers were getting acclimated to their team.
Kyoto’s hard work paid off. The Hannaryz secured the fifth seed for the Western Conference first-round series against the host Shiga Lakestars, and they completed a two-game sweep with an 89-75 victory on Sunday.
Kyoto (31-23, including playoff games) outscored Wset No. 4 Shiga in each of the four quarters, and forward David Palmer had a team-best 23 points, including 14-for-15 at the free-throw line.
Palmer is the last guy the Lakestars (31-23) would select to foul if it could be avoided at all costs. After all, the Southern Utah product led the bj-league in free-throw shooting accuracy (89.5 percent) this season, and in five previous bj-league seasons he shot 80.3 percent at the line.
It was a virtuoso performance by Palmer, the 2006-07 bj-league MVP while helping lead the Osaka Evessa to their second straight title. In 27 electrifying minutes on Sunday, Palmer was 4-for-8 from the field along with all those free throw shots, and had eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Palmer played on his third champion squad, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, last season. And now he’ll return to Okinawa next weekend trying to help the Hannaryz dethrone the Golden Kings in the Western Conference semifinals. A delightful storyline.
Center Marcus Cousin scored 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and handed out three assists for Kyoto, which led 39-36 at halftime. Yu Okada chipped in with 11 points and Gyno Pomare and Masaharu Kataoka had nine points apiece for the visitors.
Kyoto’s top five scorers in the series finale all played for different teams last season. Jermaine Boyette, a returning standout, had eight points, two assists and two steals off the bench. Veteran Sunao Murakami had four assists.
The Hannaryz shot 50 percent from inside the arc, with Cousin, who played for the Utah Jazz in 2011, making 6 of 11 shots.
For Shiga, Wayne Arnold made 5 of 8 3-pointers in a 17-point afternoon, while the rest of his team shot 2-for-14 from beyond the arc. Big man Shelton Colwell had 17 points with eight rebounds. Takamichi Fujiwara, who has played for the Lakestars since their inception in 2008, finished with 11 points and seven assists. Dionisio Gomez and Jumpei Nakama each scored 10 points.
Shiga was 12-for-24 at the foul line; Kyoto shot 24-for-31.
Jets 103, Grouses 73 (Game 2)
Grouses 19, Chiba 17 (Game 3/mini-tiebreaker)
In Uozu, Toyama Prefecture, the third-seed Grouses rebounded from a sub-standard Game 2 showing to hold off Chiba in the 10-minute mini-tiebreaker afterward to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference semifinals next Friday and Saturday against the host Yokohama B-Corsairs.
In Game 3, Angel Garcia scored 14 of 19 points for Toyama (37-18). The 209-cm post player converted 6 of 7 shots, most notably a pair of 3s, to carry the East No. 3 Grouses to their first playoff series triumph.
Joe Werner had five points for East No. 6 Chiba in the mini-game before a lively crowd of 2,491.
Coach Shinji Tomiyama’s Grouses took a 53-38 lead into the locker room at halftime in Game 2.
The Jets shot the ball extremely well in their one-sided win, making 27 of 44 2-pointers, 10 of 17 3s and 19 of 22 free throws.
D’Andre Bell drained 5 of 6 3s in a 20-point outing, Marquin Chandler swished 3 of 4 3s and scored 24 points and Werner had 18. Marquise Gray added 10 points and nine rebounds and Takaki Ishida scored nine points. Shota Isshiki and Kensuke Tanaka had seven points apiece. Tanaka added eight assists and four steals and Chandler had six assists.
Playing with a sense of urgency to force a decisive, but abbreviated Game 3, the Jets collected 14 steals.
For Toyama, a 30-point loss in Game 2 came a day after a 97-77 win in the series opener.
The Grouses missed 12 of 13 3s in Sunday’s full game. Masashi Joho and Garcia each had 19 points and Ira Brown had 18 points and 11 rebounds as bench boss Bob Nash, a former NBA forward, looked on. Jeremy Jacob contributed eight points and seven rebounds.
The Jets (26-28) are finished as a bj-league team. They announced last summer a move to the National Basketball League, the re-branded JBL, for the 2013-14 season. In two seasons in the bj-league, the Jets’ overall record was 44-62.
Northern Happinets 72, Big Bulls 71 (Game 2)
Northern Happinets 25, Big Bulls 74 (Game 3/mini-tiebreaker)
In Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, Akita, the East’s No. 4 seed, beat the hosts by a combined two points in 55 minutes in a pair of contests, staving off elimination in their first-round series.
The Northern Happinets (28-27) will face the Niigata Albirex BB, the top seed and regular-season conference champion, next weekend in Niigata.
No. 3 seed Iwate ends its season with a 35-20 record. The Big Bulls made major strides as a second-year franchise under first-year coach Dai Oketani, winning 15 more regular-season games than they did in 2011-12.
In the mini-game, Marshall Brown, who had a triple-double in the series opener, scored 13 points and Dion Harris had eight to pace Akita.
The tiebreaker was tied at 16-16 after 10 minutes, forcing a 5-minute bonus period to be contested between the Tohoku rivals.
Kenichi Takahashi finished with eight points for the Big Bulls in Game 3, and Lawrence Blackledge pumped in six.
In Game 2, free-throw shooting woes proved costly for Iwate, which was 9-for-23 at the line, including Dillion Sneed’s 0-for-10.
Carlos Dixon led Iwate with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Reggie Okosa scored 15 points. Masato Tsukino and Blackledge both had nine points.
Brown had a game-best 25 points with 12 rebound and five assists for Akita in Sunday’s first game. Mike Anderson and 19-year-old rookie Yuki Togashi both scored 17 points, the latter sinking 4 of 7 3s and dishing out six assists in the second playoff game of his pro career. Dion Harris pumped in 10 points for the Happinets, who shot 60 percent from inside the arc.