HIROSHIMA — How do you shut down a 213-cm power forward with the athleticism of a sprinter and the impressive accuracy of an All-Star shooting guard?
If you have an answer to this conundrum, contact every basketball coach on this planet. Your answer could be worth millions of dollars.
The Japan National Team had no answer for superstar Dirk Nowitzki in Germany’s Group B-opening 81-70 victory Saturday over the hosts at Hiroshima Prefectural Sports Center.
Nowitzki missed his first shot of the game, a fadeaway jumper. Seconds later, he drove the lane for a smooth left-handed layup and a 4-2 German lead.
It was the start of a dazzling one-man run offensive show.
Nowitzki nailed a hook shot in the lane, sank a 3-pointer from the left side, knocked down another jump shot. All in all, he made six consecutive shots in the first half to carry the German squad on his back.
Germany led 34-20 after one quarter and took a 57-30 cushion into the intermission. Nowitzki finished with a game-best 27 points while seeing 26:21 of playing time. What’s more, he scored 15 of his team’s first 27 points. Germany led by 10 at that point.
“Playing against him, I think the players have done very well,” Japan coach Zeljko Pavlicevic said later.
“The German team has one of the best players, Dirk Nowitzki, (in the world),” he added.
So it’s easy to figure out that the Germans’ game plan involved heavy doses of this mandate: Get the ball to Dirk.
Indeed, that was exactly what another Dirk, German coach Dirk Bauermann, wanted — and there was no need for either Dirk to be irked.
“He was unstoppable early in the game and carried us in that regard,” Bauermann said.
“Dirk is getting stronger with every game and every practice,” he added. “He’s a coach’s dream. He’ll do whatever you tell him to do (to help the team).”
To its credit, Japan never slowed down its full-throttle, run-at-you-for-40-minutes intensity.
“I thought they played a very good game,” Bauermann said of the hosts. “They played without fear, and they made our lives very difficult.”
Pavlicevic substituted frequently, keeping fresh players on the court. (Ten Japanese players saw 12 minutes, 43 seconds or more of playing time led by Kosuke Takeuchi’s 30:20, tops among all players.) They ran swiftly from end to end and constantly pressured the Germans with their superior quickness.
Germany led 50-37 at halftime. In particular, point guard Kei Igarashi, Daiji Yamada and Ryota Sakurai sparked Japan on offense in the first half, combining for 27 points up to that point.
But this game’s outcome wasn’t set in stone.
Japan used a 7-0 spurt to cut the margin to 61-49. Pavlicevic’s squad then brought the crowd — and its excited bench — to their feet after Kosuke Takeuchi jumped and unleashed a powerful two-handed slam dunk that brought the home team to within 64-56 in the final minute of the third.
Pavlicevic said his team had very good momentum at that point. To be down by only eight was “an excellent score against Germany.”
Germany was in control in the fourth quarter, pushing the edge to 15 points on three occasions.
“I thought they never gave up,” Bauermann said of Japan. “They showed tremendous fighting spirit . . . You have to respect that.”
Captain Satoru Furuta scored the game’s final two points, his only two, on a pair of free throws.
Igarashi scored all 13 of his team-high 13 points in the first half. Teammate Takehiko Orimo added 10 and Yamada and Sakurai had nine apiece.
Forward Ademola Okulaja was No. 2 on Germany’s scoring list with 11, Point guard Stefen Hamann was next with nine.
Germany held a 43-24 rebounding margin. Both teams were aggressive in getting to the free-throw line. Japan made 15 of 19 foul shots, while Germany converted 20 of 27.
Japan’s speed impressed Hamann.
“It was tough to play against them,” he said during the postgame press conference.
Igarashi, he noted, ignited Japan’s transition from defense to offense with a quick first step.