The bj-league couldn’t have asked for a more exciting beginning to its inaugural season.
Niigata Albirex 93-90 in overtime for the win.
After an opening ceremony of beating “taiko” drums and a first half of beating the Niigata Albirex in a similar fashion, the Tokyo Apache held on and persevered, winning 93-90 in overtime Saturday at Ariake Colosseum.
Albirex battled back through the second half, but solid play from all-over-the-place John “Helicopter” Humphrey made the difference in overtime, as Humphrey poured in seven of his game-high 34 points in the extra period.
Humphrey made a 3-pointer with 1:17 remaining that put the Apache up for good, a step up he was able to take because he is a leader for the inexperienced Apache, both Humphrey and coach Joe Bryant said.
“I am hard on them, and coach is hard on the team,” Humphrey said. “The main thing is that they didn’t give up. If you don’t give up, you can still have a positive outcome.”
But it wasn’t all peril and dramatic shots for the Apache, who led by 28 points early in the second half. Tokyo forced 11 Albirex turnovers in the first half, helping build a 46-25 lead at the break.
Albirex post presence Nick Davis attacked the basket, scoring 14 straight third-quarter points and giving the crowd of 3,139 something competitive for which to cheer. Davis finished with an incredible 25 points and 21 rebounds.
“He is a long drink of water,” said Bryant, a former NBA player and the father of current Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. “(Davis) was able to get in the right place at the right time. He is experienced, and he knows when it is time to step up and make shots.”
Albirex coach Masaya Hirose said that Davis was the benefactor of a more disciplined second-half offensive set.
“At the half, I told the players to reduce turnovers and be more aggressive,” Hirose said. “My players had been focusing on passing only and not shooting. I told them that if we were able to shrink the deficit to 10, we could still have a chance to win the game.”
Albirex followed Hirose’s orders to the letter, and largely because of Davis, the score was 63-53 heading into the fourth quarter.
Albirex continued their roll, opening the fourth on a 15-1 run. The four-point advantage was Albirex’s largest lead of the contest.
Just when the tide had shifted, Humphrey and the Apache came charging back, launching a 7-2 run that set up a seesaw conclusion to regulation.
Hirose blamed the momentum swing on an inopportune timeout call by Matt Garrison.
“Matt demanded a timeout, but I wanted the surge to continue,” Hirose said. “We came back from 20 points down, and I didn’t want to stop. We played the kind of game we wanted to in the second half.”
Veteran Albirex point guard Makoto Hasegawa said the effort of having to stage such a massive comeback took a physical toll on him and his teammates.
“In the second half, we found our touch,” Hasegawa said. “Coming back from the 20-point deficit was just too much. We ran out of stamina in the end.”
Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi was on hand, obviously pleased with the dramatic opener of the teams’ respective 40-game schedules.
“When I came to the arena this afternoon, I wondered, ‘Is this really in Japan?”‘ he said. “Mostly it reminded me of the first time I watched the NBA. I was very shaken.”
There were empty seats through the arena, but attendance met Kawachi’s goal of 3,000 fans per game. Other bj-league action Saturday saw the Sendai 89ers top the Saitama Broncos 79-75 and the Oita Heat Devils beat Osaka Evessa 100-95 in front of more boosters than the Apache and Albirex drew.
“A lot of people who don’t know about basketball came out today,” Kawachi said. “I don’t think they all knew how to root for the teams. It takes a while, but I am not too worried. I cannot say which team I rooted for. It was probably good the home team won today, though.”
Humphrey was one of four Apache in double figures, as William Pippen and Jun Nakanishi each scored 18 points and Taketo Aoki chipped in 11.
Three Albirex players in addition to Davis topped 10 points: Naoto Kosuge (16 points), Garrison (11 points) and Hasegawa (11 points).
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