After the Tokyo Apache endured a difficult stretch of four games in four days, ending with a well-rounded 76-68 win over the Shimane Susanoo Magic on Sunday, veteran coach Bob Hill didn’t need to spend a long time jotting down a message for the fans or the media assembled at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 when it was finished.
A simple message was all it took.
“That was a little bit better,” Hill declared on this bright sunny afternoon.
He had a less rosy outlook Saturday evening after his team’s lackluster defensive effort in a nine-point loss.
Things change quickly in professional sports, and for the Apache (8-8) an early morning film session proved to be productive for Hill, the veteran bench boss in his first season leading the bj-league team.
What Hill admitted he saw from Saturday’s tape was “one of the worst defensive games I think I’ve ever seen. We tried to play some zone, we tried to go man-to-man out of the zone, we tried to play man-to-man, and we were really bad.”
That’s why the Apache scrapped the zone and returned to its core defense, using single defenders and also mixing up its pick-and-roll defense on Takumi Ishizaki, Shimane’s All-Star guard who was held to 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting a day after torching the nets for 26 points and having his way with Tokyo in the opener.
“We were able to do a much better job on him,” Hill said, crediting his perimeter defenders for their work against Ishizaki.
To their credit, the Apache’s weak-side defensive positioning made major improvements in the series finale, which helped Tokyo do a better challenging the Magic’s 3-point shooters, too. Shimane struggled in this area, making 7 of 26 shots from beyond the arc.
On offense, the Apache attacked the basket instead of settling for 3-point shots — they were 23-for-54 on 2-point attempts and 5-for-10 from long range, while getting to the free-throw line for 22 shots — and had five double-digit scorers, including Cohey Aoki (14), Byron Eaton (13) and Jeremy Tyler and Robert Swift (10 apiece).
For Shimane coach Zelkjo Pavlicevic, whose team fell to 9-15, the rematch was a solid game, but he admitted Hill made strong adjustments and Tokyo’s players capitalized on those changes.
“Look, yesterday we played a strong game inside and shot the ball well,” Pavlicevic said. “Today, fatigued played a factor.”
Tokyo led 20-15 after the opening stanza and took control of the game in the second period. Backup guard Kensuke Tanaka scored eight of his season-high 18 points, making all four of his shots and collecting three steals in the quarter as the Apache scored 20 and held the Susanoo Magic to eight in those pivotal 10 minutes.
Hill praised Tanaka’s productivity off the bench.
“He pretty much did everything,” the coach said of the 25-year-old Shizuoka Prefecture native. “His defense is always very solid, he hit some 3s. He’s a really good player, and he made it obvious to everybody that’s watching closely that he should’ve played yesterday. And the coach didn’t play him, so that’s my fault.”
Shimane trailed 20-15 entering the second quarter.
Playing their fourth game in four days, Hill used his bench early and often. Eaton, the starting point guard, was on the floor for all but 19 seconds. No other Apache logged more than 26:51 of court time.
Tanaka, who saw little court time last season, played his best half of 2010-11 in the series finale. In a solid second quarter, this included a steal and a pass to Aoki on a 2-on-1. Aoki’s layup made it 32-19, and he scored seconds later as Tokyo’s 15-4 spurt put the Magic behind by 15. Tanaka, meanwhile, topped his previous season-high scoring total (seven points on two occasions) before the cheerleaders’ halftime show.
The Magic trailed 40-23 at intermission.
Looking back at the first half, Hill said his team played its best defensive half of the season.
“We weren’t mentally tough enough to maintain that (large) lead, but our defense today was much, much better,” he said.
The Magic fell behind 58-35 when Aoki canned a 3-pointer late in the third and faced a 61-43 deficit entering the fourth.
Reggie Golson and Ishizaki combined for 53 points on Saturday. A day later, they were held to 29 (Golson had 17), as Tokyo did a solid job of limiting their impact as scorers. Tokyo employed a smaller lineup in the rematch, with small forward Reina Itakura, whose defensive intensity pleased Hill, playing 21-plus minutes.
Shimane center Jeral Davis, meanwhile, had a nice all-around game (14 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three steals).
The Apache led for the entire final three periods, a big psychological boost for a team fighting to find its identity.
“I would like to think that the fact that we weren’t able to hold on (to a double-digit lead) like I would in the fourth quarter is because this is their fourth game in four days, and I’m sure they are tired,” Hill said.
Broncos 79, Five Arrows 71
In Takamatsu, Kenny Satterfield scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Bobby Nash and George Leach each scored 12 as Saitama won its fifth straight game.
The Broncos improved to 9-15 under first-year coach Bob Nash.
Terrance Farley paced Takamatsu (6-16) with 14 points, while Hiroyuki Kikuchi and Rasheed Sparks had 13 apiece.
Grouses 77, Shining Suns 73
In Kurobe, Toyama Prefecture, Jerrell Smith’s 23-point, 17-rebound effort and John Davis’ 18 points led the hosts to the win as they salvaged a series split.
Brian Harper added 16 points and Takeshi Mito handed out seven assist to go along with 10 points for the Grouses (7-15).
For Miyazaki (7-17), Jackie Manuel scored 19, Brandon Cole had 15, Elijah Palmer poured in 13 and Hiroki Fujita added 12.
89ers 85, Rizing 80
In Sendai, Mac Hopson scored 24 points with eight assists and Chris Holm (18 points, 17 rebounds) and Mike Bell (15 points, 17 boards) provided strong support on the inside as the hosts completed a series sweep.
The 89ers (14-8) had five double-digit scorers a day after a 34-point rout.
League scoring leader Michael Parker finished with 31 points and 18 rebounds for Fukuoka (15-11).
Albirex BB 86, Lakestars 85
In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, balanced scoring carried Niigata to a hard-fought win over the hosts.
Julius Ashby (22 points), Willie Veasley (20 points, 11 rebounds), Zach Andrews (19 points, 18 boards), Naoto Takushi (15 points, six assists) and Yuichi Ikeda all played key roles for the Albirex (11-11).
Shiga (15-9) cut an eight-point deficit in the final minute to one on Masashi Joho’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. Joho finished with 15 points. Lamar Rice led the Lakestars with 26 points and Yu Okada had 11. Gary Hamilton added eight points, 14 boards and three steals, breaking a stretch of 13 straight double-doubles. Leading scorer Mikey Marshall, averaging 18.4 points per game, was held to a season-low four on 2-for-10 shooting.
Phoenix 104, Evessa 86
In Osaka, defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa trounced the Evessa in the first meeting of the season between the clubs.
The Phoenix’s Wayne Arnold had 28 points by halftime and made 10 of 14 shots, including 5 of 8 3-point attempts, before the break against last season’s championship runnerup. Arnold scored a game-best 35 points and teammate Jeffrey Parmer had 17.
Hamamatsu (21-2) outscored the hosts 62-37 in the first and three quarters.
For Osaka (17-6), Billy Knight led the way with 26 points.
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