YOKOHAMA – One victory separated the second-place Yokohama B-Corsairs and third-place Toyama Grouses in the standings this season, and the evenly matched teams exhibited their competitive spirit on Friday night.
This was evident in the third quarter as the teams traded baskets and highlights with equal intensity.
It all boiled down to fourth-quarter execution, and Yokohama, especially its Big Three — Draelon Burns, Thomas Kennedy and Masayuki Kabaya — came through in the clutch in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, winning 86-75 at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium.
Burns controlled the tempo for big stretches and ignited the B-Corsairs at the end of the third quarter and at the start of the final stanza, drilling three 3-pointers in that span in a 12-5 spurt that put Yokohama ahead 69-62 with 7:26 left in the game.
After back-to-back shots missed their target, muscular forwards Shawn Malloy and Faye Pape Mour hauled in offensive rebounds to keep the B-Corsairs on their end of the court, the latter converting a layup for a 73-66 Yokohama lead with about 5 minutes left in the game.
Masashi Joho cut it to four on a 3 from the right wing before Burns scored on a tough-angle scoop shot in the lane that made it 75-69, Yokohama.
Burns, named to the Best Five team last week, was everywhere, making things happen for his team in its playoff opener. He also won the Sixth Man Award.
The B-Corsairs took their biggest lead of the night, 78-69 on a Kennedy layup, courtesy of a Burns assist.
Kennedy sank two free throws to pad the lead at 82-69 with 2:30 left. And that was the finishing touches on a well-rounded victory for B-Corsairs bench boss Reggie Geary, the 2011-12 bj-league Coach of the Year.
“After we had the bye week last week, I felt it took us a little time to get our feet underneath us,” Geary said after the game. “Defensively we were really good and offensively (we were effective) . . .
“We are going to need that same type of effort tomorrow.”
Said Burns, who had a game-best 32 points, after winning the game MVP honor, “I’m tired and I want to go home and get some rest for tomorrow’s game.”
“I thought it was a great atmosphere to play in with you cheering us on even though we had a slow start,” Kennedy said, addressing the fans.
The Big Three combined for 74 points, with Kennedy scoring 30 and Kabaya putting 12 on the board. Yokohama shot 16 of 18 (88.9 percent) from the free-throw line. Toyama was 15-for-22, and was outscored 26-13 in the fourth.
For Toyama, Ira Brown was the top scorer with 19 points, Joho had 16, Angel Garcia poured in 13, Jeremy Jacob 11 and Tatsunori Fujie had eight points and went 1-for-8 on 3s. Takeshi Mito also scored eight points.
“Yokohama played an excellent game, and Draelon Burns shot the ball very well,” Toyama coach Bob Nash said. “Tomorrow, we have a big challenge to win and force the tiebreaker.”
The B-Corsairs had only 10 assists on their 31 field goals, but made a solid 23 of 40 shots from inside the arc. Toyama shot 50 percent on 2s and 8-for-24 on 3s.
Big man Garcia, who sat out most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, found his scoring touch in the third quarter. He knocked down three 3-pointers and 11 points to help Toyama build a small cushion in the third quarter.
What was a seven-point margin after a Joho corner jumper dwindled to one after Burns’ 3-pointer.
And entering the fourth quarter, the teams, who split their season series 2-2, were separated by two points. Toyama led 62-60.
The first half had a stark contrast, with Toyama dominating the opening quarter and Yokohama taking control over the next 10 minutes.
Fujie canned a 3-pointer to put the Grouses in front 5-2 at the 8:48 mark of the first quarter. Yokohama went in front 6-5 on a Mour three-point play.
Brown returned the favor moments later, scoring on a putback and nailing the subsequent free throw. Kennedy converted a layup to tie it at 8-8.
Jacob’s layup put Toyama ahead 10-8 with around 5:40 left in the first quarter.
Sparked by a Joho layup and his steal off an errant Yokohama dribbling play that led to Brown’s slam dunk, the Grouses extended their lead to 16-10, and Yokohama called a timeout with 2:44 to play in the opening period.
Brown added a second slam moments later when a teammate tipped a B-Corsairs pass and got him the ball.
Joho drilled a buzzer-beating 3 to end the first quarter.
Toyama closed out the quarter on a 17-4 run, leading 25-12 at that time. Brown had eight points at the end of the quarter.
Yokohama missed all eight of its 3-point shots in the first. Toyama was 8-for-17 inside the arc. The B-Corsairs had four turnovers in the quarter.
The Yokohama offense started to come to life early in the second period, with Burns hitting a stop-and-pop 3 and another 3-ball moments later to cut it to 28-20, with a nifty layup by Joho, who waltzed past a bewildered defense for an easy deuce.
An official timeout was called with 4:59 before the intermission, with Toyama leading 31-25. Kennedy had cut it to six on a pair of free throws.
It was 34-28 after a Kabaya catch-and-shoot jumper as Toyama bore down on the perimeter, and 34-30 after he created space between him and defense for another jumper. Then Mito sank a shot to push the margin back to six.
Burns found Malloy open in the low post and delivered a crisp bounce pass that Malloy turned into a layup to make it 38-36.
Brown sank 1 of 2 free throws for the final scoring of the half. Burns’ 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer, and the B-Corsairs trailed 39-36 after two quarters.
In the first half, Brown had a team-best 13 points, matching Burns’ total. Burns scored nine second-quarter points to ignite the Yokohama comeback, and Kennedy had 10 points by the break.
Game 2 is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday at the same gym. The winner advances to the Final Four.