Inside muscle and all-out hustle propelled the Tokyo Apache to a 79-78 triumph over the Sendai 89ers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday at Ariake Colosseum.
Sendai forward Josh Peppers missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. Teammate Kenichi Takahashi grabbed the offensive rebound and Peppers missed a shot in the lane seconds later. Then center Chris Holm grabbed a rebound but was unable to score on a putback in the final seconds.
“I don’t know if that was a foul or not but they didn’t call it,” Holm said. That’s the way it goes.”
“They played well,” he added, praising Tokyo’s effort.
Said Takahashi: “It’s regrettable that we lost by one. We’re facing the result, but we didn’t necessarily play badly.”
With the victory, Apache coach Joe Bryant’s squad advances to the bj-league’s Eastern Conference final against the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Julius Ashby, Nick Davis and Masashi Joho shared the team lead in points for second-seeded Tokyo (14 apiece), while Dameion Baker and John Humphrey both scored 12. Joho and Davis each had five assists. Davis had a team-high 12 rebounds, followed by Ashby’s 10, Baker’s nine and Joho’s eighth.
“We had five players in double digits, so we were all aggressive,” said Joho, who earned plaudits for jump-starting Tokyo’s fast break on several occasions.
“Sendai is a very good team,” added Humphrey. “They were No. 1 in our conference last year. We knew they would come up fighting.”
Tokyo finished 8-2 against the third-seeded 89ers this season, including the playoffs.
Sendai only held three leads in the game, including 76-75 on a Peppers basket with 3:41 to play, but the overall skills of Bobby St. Preux (24 points), Webb (21 points) and Peppers (17 points) kept the 89ers within striking distance all afternoon.
Both teams struggled at the free-throw line, with Tokyo making 10 of 22 shots and Sendai converting 11 of 19.
Cohey Aoki, who has led the league in free-throw shooting percentage in three of four seasons, was 1-for-3 at the line. He was 1-for-10 from the field, but made a timely 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to give his team a 69-64 lead, the largest margin in the final period, with 6:35 remaining.
“That was a big shot,” Bryant said. “As a coach, you give players confidence and I think the players have confidence in me, even though they are not playing well there are times I’ll leave them in the game because of the respect factor, and I know Cohey’s going to make a big shot.”
Tokyo jumped out to a 30-23 lead by the end of the first quarter. Joho had the hot hand early with 10 first-quarter points and 4-for-4 shooting from the field.
Sendai clawed its way back into the game in the second quarter, tying it up at 44-44 on a Peppers 3 with 24 seconds to play until intermission.
The Apache, who had only seven turnovers on Saturday, committed nine turnovers in the third quarter, but that factor didn’t decide Sunday’s game. Sendai had only four points off those takeaways.
“We came back and played some defense after we made mistakes,” Bryant said.
For the 89ers, several of whom were seen with tears in their eyes moments after the game, this season ended in a disappointing finish.
“We fought hard,” said Peppers. “We did what we wanted. The game plan was perfect. I think everything went according to plan (except the final score).”
“If it was a regular-season game, we could’ve said it was a good game. But in the playoffs, where if you lose, you’re out, we’re pretty vexed to have lost,” said 89ers coach Honoo Hamaguchi said after the game.
Also Sunday, sensational success from 3-point range carried the Phoenix past the Niigata Albirex BB in the Eastern Conference’s other semifinal series.
Coming off a one-point overtime loss on Saturday, the Phoenix beat the visiting Albirex 95-79 in Game 2. In doing so, Hamamatsu forced a decisive mini-game tiebreaker to determine which team would advance to next weekend’s Final Four.
Michael Gardener scored 28 points in 29 minutes to lead the Phoenix rout. He made 6 of 12 3-point shots. Stanley Ocitti had 20 points, including 6-for-9 on 3s, and 12 rebounds for top-seeded Hamamatsu. Teammates Takeshi Hotta (13 points, 4-for-6 on 3s) and Shingo Okada (nine points, 3-for-4 on 3s) helped the Phoenix finished 23-for-41 (56.1 percent) from 3-point range.
Dokun Akingbade, fourth-seeded Niigata’s hero in Saturday’s OT game, finished with 13 points in Game 2. Paul Butorac, who had a 10-point effort, was the Albirex’s only other double-digit scorer.
In the 10-minute tiebreaker, Hamamatsu defeated Niigata 37-24 to book its spot in the conference final.
The game followed a similar script: The Phoenix relied on the 3-point shot to secure the win.
Gardener had 18 points in the mini-game and made 4 of 6 3-pointers. Marcus Morrison added 10 points and was 1-for-2 on 3s. Hotta scored nine and made both of his 3-point attempts.
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