The Toyota Motors Alvark Tokyo got off to a strong start in the inaugural National Basketball League as they prevailed both offensively and defensively in a 86-78 victory over the Link Tochigi Brex at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 on Saturday.
Sixth man Keijuro “KJ” Matsui scored a game-high 19 points and guard Yusuke Okada followed with 15 points for the Alvark, who won the 2011-12 JBL championship, the predecessor of the newly-established 12-club circuit.
“It’s very exciting to start the new league and start the new season,” Toyota coach Donald Beck said after the game, watched by a nearly full-house crowd of 2,491. “We had tremendous fan support today. We’re very satisfied with that.”
Toyota had no jitters whatsoever to begin the season opener. It capitalized on its defense and widened its lead to 47-29 at the end of the first half.
The Brex made a surge and erased the gap to as few as three points late in the third period. But the Alvark regrouped and would not allow Link Tochigi to catch up.
Link Tochigi actually shot better than Toyota Motors. The Brex hit 56.1 percent of their shots while the Alvark made 45.6 percent. But Toyota outplayed its opponent underneath the basket at both ends and that made the difference in the end.
The Alvark outrebounded 46-28, and grabbed 23 offensive boards to give themselves so many second chances. In fact, they scored 18 points off second chances while Link Tochigi had 4.
Both Toyota and Link Tochigi faced against each other many times in the JBL. Still, there was the sense of a fresh start under the name of the NBL for most of the players.
“I feel like we’ve begun in this new league with fresh mind-sets,” said Toyota forward/center Kosuke Takeuchi, who chipped in with 10 points and seven rebounds. “But we’ve seen that kind of an audience in a game before. Our goal is to bring in more people.”
For the Brex, Ryan Rossiter played with energy and had 18 points and 12 rebounds. The club’s superstar and former NBA player, Yuta Tabuse, scored 12 points.
Playing under new rules, with new teams and a longer season (54 regular-season games), Beck, who’s in his fourth season with the powerhouse Toyota, said that it was going to be “an interesting year” and hard to tell if the team was going to advance to the NBL finals next spring as there are so many variables that were not there last year in the JBL.
Beck added, however, that if the team stays healthy, it should be a championship contender.
“There’s no question,” the American said. “We should be one of the teams that should be competing.”
Toyota didn’t play center Philip Ricci due to a knee injury. Beck said the former Oregon State University player is expected to miss another five to six weeks.