One run changed everything.
The Ryukyu Golden Kings delivered the knockout blow in the third quarter of Sunday’s bj-league championship game against the Akita Northern Happinets. That carried head coach Tsutomu Isa’s team to a 103-89 victory and the franchise’s third title, which matches the league record set by the Osaka Evessa (2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08).
With ruthless efficiency, the Golden Kings turned a two-point lead into a 20-point margin, using a 20-4 spurt that lasted nearly half of the third quarter at Ariake Colosseum.
Akita power forward Ruben Boykin had completed an old-fashioned three-point play, pumping his fist and high-fiving teammates at the 5:26 mark of the third quarter after a hard-earned putback that led to a free throw. That scoring sequence pulled the Northern Happinets to within 64-60.
Controlling the offensive glass — they beat the Happinets 24-9 in that key statistic — the Golden Kings created second chance after second chance for their high-powered offense. It helped fuel the super spurt. And at the same time, Ryukyu raised its intensity level, not unlike a high-powered sports car zooming into a high gear for the final laps of a marquee race. The Golden Kings offense simply overwhelmed their foe, and Akita’s offense went cold, missing shot after shot after shot while quick-rotating defenders from the league’s No.1 defense (Ryukyu yielded a league-low 68.5 points per game in the regular season).
What was a fiercely competitive game became a one-sided contest.
Playoff MVP Ryuichi Kishimoto, who had zero points in Saturday’s Western Conference final against the Kyoto Hannryz, had a hot hand all night, including during the pivotal run. Kishimoto finished with a game-high 34 points, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range. The 24-year-old guard also hauled in five rebounds. (In Ryukyu’s four playoff games, the Okinawan, a fearless gunner, flushed 15 of 30 3-point attempts and averaged 15.7 points.)
Early in the aforementioned spurt, three-time Best Five Team selection Anthony McHenry made a driving layup that seemed to have the trajectory of a line-drive double with a Louisville Slugger, and he was fouled. The subsequent free throw gave Ryukyu a 68-60 advantage with 4:34 to play in the third quarter, and Narito Namizato’s layup off a turnover — that was a Kings specialty on the night — pushed the lead to 70-60.
Moments later, as Akita struggled to regain its offensive rhythm, Kings center Kibwe Trim sank two free throws to push the lead to 82-64, and Kishimoto followed with a textbook jumper.
Akita’s Deshawn Stephens drained a shot to beat the buzzer and close out the third quarter, ending the run with his team trailing 84-66.
The Happinets pulled within 96-84 with under 2:30 remaining, but couldn’t cut the margin to single digits.
Ryukyu’s defensive awareness and positioning were both impressive and consistent throughout the game.
All-Star Game MVP Yuki Togashi (30 points, specializing in slicing through traffic for tough layups, five assists, six turnovers), Richard Roby (17 points) and Ruben Boykin (17 points, 13 boards, six assists) carried the Akita offense, but credit the Kings’ defensive exploits for limiting the Happinets’ easy shots and opportunities to run up the score.
Kings guard Draelon Burns, a playoff hero for the 2012-13 champion Yokohama B-Corsairs, poured in 21 points, a fan-pleasing encore to his 27-point performance against Kyoto. Burns’ four 3-pointers and defensive tenacity paid big dividends.
Namizato, McHenry and Trim all scored 14 points for the 2013-14 league champs, who collected 50 rebounds (league legend and team icon Jeff Newton’s jersey number; he now has a league-record six championships on his resume) and held the Happinets to 34.
Hard-working Trim, Newton and McHenry did their part in limiting 213-cm Akita big man Chas McFarland’s effectiveness in the low post.
He was held to four points and four rebounds in 16-plus minutes of court time.
McHenry arrived in Okinawa in 2008 along with Newton, an anchor on the Osaka three-peat, and brought all-around athleticism and an ability to defend players at all five positions. This has remained a key trait for him and the team’s success, winning that first title in May 2009 and adding a second in 2012.
The Kings are 3-1 overall in title games and have appeared in five Final Fours in their seven seasons in the league.
The spirited crowd of 10,026 featured loud chants from both Akita and Ryukyu supporters, and the back-and-forth competition saw the Happinets (43-13 overall) take an 18-10 lead on a Shigehiro Taguchi 3-pointer near the midway point of the opening quarter. Roby’s steal and jam made it 24-17, with Akita in front, and triggered a loud roar from their pink-clad fans.
The teams were tied at 24-24 after one quarter. Akita never held sole possession of the lead in the final 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Kings showed no signs of fatigue in the second quarter and put 31 points on the board.
Overall, Ryukyu’s 12-for-27 shooting from 3-point land doesn’t look like jaw-dropping efficiency, but each of those shots was another dagger in the side of Akita, which was in catch-up mode but couldn’t turn the tide.
Fittingly, Kishimoto’s jumper in the closing seconds accounted for the game’s final points.
At 7:11 p.m., the game ended and the Golden Kings were champions once again. Their 43-9 odyssey through the regular season was a warm-up act for what followed next: four victories in four playoff games.
Isa, the longtime assistant coach under ex-Ryukyu bench bosses Hernando Planells, Dai Oketani and Koto Toyama, carried the team back to the top and was all smiles in a post-game interview in front of TV cameras. He received the traditional doage (victory toss) from his players, three tosses, signifying each of the team’s three titles.
When Kishimoto’s name was announced by commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi as the MVP, he erupted with joy.
Looking at what the Kings accomplished this season, it isn’t a revolutionary concept, but few teams manage to follow the winning blueprint as effectively as the Okinawan powerhouse.
The key ingredients? Organizational stability and championship experience on the roster and coaching staff.
Isa and assistant Keith Richardson have been with the team throughout their six playoff campaigns, and eight Golden Kings players have played for one or more title-winning bj-league teams. They expected to
be at Ariake, and their confidence shined throughout the title game with gutsy plays and composed clock management.
Grouses beat Hannaryz
Ed Odeven STAFF WRITER
In the bj-league’s third-place game, the Toyama Grouses defeated the Kyoto Hannaryz 84-62.
The Hannaryz, who appeared in their third consecutive Final Four, never staged a game-changing run. They trailed by as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter.
The Grouses jumped out to a 30-15 lead after one quarter. Kyoto was held to six second-quarter points, and it marked their sixth consecutive quarter at Ariake being held to under 20 points.
Toyama led 42-21 at halftime and 59-42 after three quarters, getting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Sam Willard for the final points of the period.
The Grouses won the Eastern Conference regular-season title for the first time in franchise history and also advanced to the Final Four for the first time. Under second-year coach Bob Nash, they finished with a 45-11 overall record.
The Hannaryz took second in the West, with third-year bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi guiding the club with a steady hand. They closed out the season with a 36-21 record.
Sam Willard paced Toyama with 20 points, adding 10 rebounds and two steals. Frontcourt mate Ira Brown had 16 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Masashi Joho finished with 14 points, four assists and two steals, while Takeshi Mito had 13 points and seven rebounds with two steals. Tatsunori Fujie added 12 points, draining three 3s for the Grouses.
Toyama out-rebounded Kyoto 54-43.
Yu Okada led the Hannryz with 15 points and Edwin Ubiles, who was held to zero points in the Western Conference final on Saturday by Ryukyu, added 13. Joe Werner chipped in with 12 points and David Palmer added nine and two blocks. Center Chris Holm supplied six points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
The Hannaryz were 4-for-21 from 3-point range. They finished the weekend 6-for-37 from beyond the arc.