Unbelievable energy. Splendid self confidence. Never-wavering faith in his abilities or his teammates.
Those are ingredients to success for Draelon Burns, the Yokohama B-Corsairs’ super substitute.
Burns buried a remarkable three buzzer-beating shots to close out the three final quarters, and his team needed every one of them in a tense, 54-52 victory over the Niigata Albirex BB in the Eastern Conference final on Saturday night at Ariake Colosseum. The final dagger was an off-balance 3-meter baseline jumper as three defenders surrounded him in the final second, giving Yokohama the triumph and a trip to the championship game.
“I can’t say enough about Draelon Burns tonight,” an ecstatic Reggie Geary, the B-Corsairs coach, said moments later. “That’s why he’s a special player and he’s having such a special year.”
Burns, named to the 2012-13 Best Five team, scored a game-high 22 points and was Yokohama’s only scorer in double figures. He had nine of the B-Corsair’s 12 fourth-quarter points.
“The coach and my teammates have a lot of confidence in me,” said Burns, a DePaul University product, “and toward the end of the shot clock they want to put the ball in my hands. And if I got the shot, shoot it; if I don’t, then look for my teammates to make a play. . .”
For much of the night, though, big plays were hard come by; neither team scored more than 16 points in any of the fourth quarters, a statistic that underscores how much of a defensive struggle the contest was.
“First and foremost, we just thought it was a fantastic game,” said Geary, the second-year bench boss who took home the league’s Coach of the Year honor last season. “It was a high-level game for the bj-league played at an excellent level.”
He added: “Now reaching the championship game is one step further than we came last year (for the B-Corsairs), and a historic day for our organization.”
In the earlier Western Conference final, the Rizing Fukuoka defeated the Kyoto Hannaryz 83-66.
Kyoto will play Niigata in Sunday’s third-place game at 1:10 p.m, followed by the championship contest four hours later.
Looking ahead to the Sunday showdown, Geary noted that the Rizing are a “good basketball club with good size.”
Visiting Fukuoka defeated Yokohama 106-97 and 67-66 on March 30 and 31 in the teams’ only regular-season meetings.
“We’ve seen them recently and had two close games,” Geary said. We’re aware of (Julius) Ashby, (Reggie) Warren, (Josh) Peppers and their young point guard (Akitomo Takeno). We’re familiar with them, so I think we’ll be prepared.”
Yokohama captain Masayuki Kabaya said his team matches up well with the Rizing.
“Both games came down to the (finish), and we could’ve won had we hit the shots in the end,” Kabaya told reporters. “We ended up missing them in both games, but I’m sure it’ll be a close game.”
Burns was Yokohama’s lone double-digit scorer. Kabaya scored nine points, Faye Pape Mour had eight and Thomas Kennedy for the B-Corsairs, who were 1-3 against the Albirex in the regular season.
Nile Murry led Niigata with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting. Chris Holm had nine points and eight rebounds and Rodney Webb finished with eight points and 10 boards. Kimitake Sato and Yuichi Ikeda each had seven points in the loss.
Niigata shot 14-for-43 from inside the arc and 5-for-21 from 3-point range.
“They were really pressuring us (on the perimeter). We were forced to get it inside,” Garrison said of the Yokohama defense.
“We had a lot of open shots we missed, a lot of open looks we missed, a lot of free throws that we missed,” Garrison acknowledged, saying he expected a low-scoring game. But, he added, he expected his teammate to score closer to its season average of 83.2 points (second-highest total in the league).
While Murry described Burns’ game-winning hoop as a “lucky shot” that hit the top of the backboard, Garrison spoke at length about the disappointing end to his team’s championship quest.
“That was a championship-level game on Saturday,” Garrison said. “So both teams came out and fought really hard. I’m really proud of how my guys fought.
“I thought we played a little bit better on defense. . . . We lose the rebound battle (54-49), we shot horrible from the free-throw line (8-for-16) and we couldn’t make any shots. We couldn’t put the ball in the basket like we did all season. But my hat’s off to Yokohama.”
Specifically, he praised Burns for his late-game heroics.
“What a way to end it,” Garrison said. “A guy makes an amazing shot like that with three guys hanging on him. It’s a real devastating way to lose a game like that.”
Kennedy celebrated his 26th birthday on Friday, and his coach said he could think of “no better gift than two wins” this weekend.
A smiling Burns said that the trip to the title game was “his first birthday present” for his teammate. He said he wants to repeat the gift-giving routine on Sunday.
The B-Corsairs’ Saturday triumph put them in the title game a year after they lost to eventual championship runnerup Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix in the Eastern Conference final.
“We had a very good team last year and this year’s team is a special one and we believe that we can win it all,” said Kabaya.
The Albirex called a timeout with 3:04 left, trailing 52-47 after a Burns’ bank shot, and they cut the lead to three on a Webb stickback.
Just over a minute later, Murry buried a 3-pointer to tie it at 52-52, the 12th time the score was knotted in the contest.
Yokohama came up with nothing on its next possession, Kennedy losing the ball as he sliced his way in the lane.
That gave the ball back to Niigata with 49.6 seconds left after a timeout. But Burns stayed in front of Murry, keeping him out on the perimeter with little room to operate. The latter was forced to hoist up a 3 to beat the shot clock, but it was an air ball.
“We just didn’t make shots,” Murry said, lamenting his team’s offensive woes.
And so, with 23.9 seconds let, Yokohama had a chance to win it. The B-Corsairs milked the clock until the end as Burns delivered an exciting game-ending shot.
“I thought it was going to go in right after the ball left out of his hands. It’s what King Burn does,” Kabaya said.
The B-Corsairs took a 43-40 lead into the final stanza. Burns sank a jumper just before the buzzer sounded to close out the third quarter on a high note for Yokohama. As soon as the shot fell through, Burns let out a primal scream — a roar of joy, it appeared.
To both coaches’ credit, neither club went on a long run over the first three quarters. Quick adjustments and substitutions were made, and both defenses reacted quickly to the action surrounding them.
Below-average shooting numbers were also a result of the defensive struggle. Entering the fourth quarter, the Albirex were 4-for-18 on 3s and 10-for-31 from inside the arc. Those numbers were 3-for-13 and 13-for-33 for the B-Corsairs.
The first half provided a snapshot of the all-out duel in the East between Niigata and Yokohama during the regular season.
There were eight ties in the opening half — 3-3, 11-11, 13-13, 20-20, 22-22, 24-24, 26-26 and 29-29 — the last of which came on Burns’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the half.
In a fierce fight for rebounds — a chief strength of the Albirex — Niigata held a 27-26 edge in the opening half. Webb had a team-high six at that point. (And when the game was over, Geary praised the inside effort of Shawn Malloy and Faye Pape Mour in particular for holding Holm to three offensive rebounds and Webb to one.)
Burns had 11 points, tops among all players, before the break and Ikeda and Kabaya were joint No. 2 with seven.
The teams shot a combined 5-for-26 from 3-point range, facing tight defense for the majority of those long-range attempts. Niigata was 3-for-14; Yokohama 2-for-12.
The largest lead of the first quarter was Niigata’s 11-7 advantage after Ikeda flushed a 3-pointer near the midway point.
The Albirex were ahead 16-15 entering the second quarter.
Both teams spread the floor on offense and played at a fast pace, but also went inside to their big men for high percentage shots.
Ikeda was the top scorer in the first quarter, hitting a pair of 3s for the bulk of his seven points. Kabaya had five points for the B-Corsairs.
After the game, Ikeda, a Niigata player since 2006, reflected on the team’s championship quest falling short.
“We are so disappointed for sure, but we have one more game to play tomorrow and need to play to our best for our boosters that came here,” Ikeda said.
“It’s not just the case for us, but we won’t probably be playing with exactly the same members next year. It will be our last game to play with this team. We want to finish the season with a smile with a victory. We are going to pull ourselves together tomorrow.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.