Though they dealt with some threatening moments, the Toyota Motors Alvark buckled down when it mattered most and came out on top in the end.
American Jeff Gibbs had a double-double performance with 22 points and 15 rebounds, followed by compatriot Philip Ricci, who scored a game-high 23 points, in Toyota’s 105-86 victory over the Link Tochigi Brex in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in NBL playoff action on Saturday.
“It’s always good to get a first game just because if we win tomorrow, that’s it,” said Gibbs, who also recorded five assists and six steals for the second-seeded club, after the game at Ota City General Gymnasium. “It’s always big to get a first game, especially in a best-of-three series.”
The Alvark, who had their 28-game winning streak snapped before the regular season ended last month, got on a roll offensively early on, building a 61-38 lead by halftime. But Tochigi bounced back in the third quarter, when it outscored Toyota 32-14, cutting its deficit to just three points at one point before the period concluded.
The final quarter belonged to Toyota again, while the Brex appeared to run out of gas and could no longer continue their surge. Alvark big man Kosuke Takeuchi stepped up and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter alone to seal the win for the Tokyo team.
“I was very upset with some of the things that were happening in the third quarter,” Toyota head coach Donald Beck said. “But (the Brex) are a very good offensive team and they’ve got good shooters. And I’m sure it was part of it, but there were other things involved I’d rather not talk about.”
For Tochigi, five players had double-digit scoring efforts. Guard Hironori Watanabe went 5-for-10 from 3-point range en route to a team-high 19 points. Star player Yuta Tabuse, one of the catalysts of his team’s run in the third quarter, had 14 points and eight assists.
“We can play the ball game like that,” Tabuse said of his team’s strong rally in the third quarter. “Now we’ll need to play like that from the beginning until the end, so we’ll have a better chance to win.”
In the Western Conference semifinals, Aisin center J.R. Sakuragi had 15 points and 10 rebounds to guide the SeaHorses to a 76-67 win over the Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins in Game 1 in Hiroshima.
Game 2s in both series are slated to tip off at 3 p.m. on Sunday.