Cohey Aoki lifted the Tokyo Apache to a stirring victory over the three-time defending champions Osaka Evessa on Thursday.
The diminutive guard scored the biggest basket of the game, gliding through traffic past three defenders in a zigzag-like pattern and scoring the winning points with 0.5 seconds left in the game.
Tokyo defeated Osaka 91-90 before 3,123 fans at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
“I was lucky on the last play to get a good inbounds pass,” Aoki admitted, referring to the crisp pass from big man Julius Ashby.
Great comebacks can spark teams to great seasons, and Apache coach Joe Bryant, whose team is trying to become the bj-league’s next great team, erupted in a joyful celebration after it completed a 14-point comeback in the final four-plus minutes of the game.
“Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow,” Bryant exclaimed at center court with the microphone in his hand seconds after the game ended. A day earlier, the Evessa beat Tokyo 69-60.
“After yesterday’s game, I had a great conversation with the team on how in the NBA, it’s playoff intensity (in games like this),” the coach continued.
“And I think now the players understand that, even though it was only games nine and 10 for us.
“When you play Osaka and when you play Takamatsu, it’s always playoff intensity.”
“I’m very proud of my team,” he added. “They played hard and they executed in the last two to three minutes of the game.”
John Humphrey finished with a game-high 31 points for Tokyo (6-4), followed by Aoki’s 20 and Nick Davis’ 16. After a subpar game on Wednesday, Ashby was energized from the get-go in the rematch and provided big production off the bench (eight points, nine rebounds).
Nick Dewitz paced the Evessa (7-5) with 24 points, Nile Murry added 20 and handed out eight assists and Lynn Washington had 18 points. DeWitz and Washington both grabbed 13 rebounds to help Osaka hold a 56-41 lead on the boards.
Fourth-quarter intensity gave the rematch the vibe of a playoff contest just like Wednesday’s series opener, but Tokyo was unable to complete the comeback against the three-time defending champions.
Tokyo fell into an 81-67 hole after DeWitz added a reverse jam after pulling down an offensive board, but landed awkwardly on his right ankle and was helped off the court with 4:17 left.
Humphrey electrified the home crowd on a drive to the hole, getting the ball to drop through the rim after it took a high bounce. As it rolled through the net, the Apache had cut it to 82-75 with 2:50 to play. Humphrey then went to the line to attempt to complete the three-point play.
Mission accomplished. Humphrey hit the high-pressure shot, and suddenly it was an 82-76 game.
With Osaka ahead 85-79 with 1:34 to play, Washington fouled out when Humphrey penetrated through the lane on the right side and earned a trip to the charity stripe. He made both of them to make it a two-possession game.
Evessa small forward Kazuya Hatano fouled out moments in the fourth quarter, too.
Takanori Goya extended Evessa’s lead to 87-81 on a layup.
Tokyo rose to the challenge on the next possession, getting the ball to Aoki on the left baseline, where he spotted up and connected on a 3-pointer to slash it to 87-84 with 48 seconds remaining.
But DeWitz made his most important shot of the game seconds later, nailing a 3-pointer. Humphrey hit both free throws with 21.4 seconds left, but Tokyo still faced a 90-86 deficit.
The Apache caught a break when Justen Naughton missed the front end of a one-on-on with 10 seconds left.
Humphrey’s two free throws made it a one-point game with 9.4 ticks on the game clock.
Tokyo won the game on its next possession.
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