The center is expected to be the tone-setter on defense, filling up space in the lane and dissuading foes from having a free pass to the hoop. On offense, he is expected to open things up for the team’s smaller players and use his size to generate high-percentage shots.
Give props to Tokyo Apache big man Robert Swift for putting in extra effort at both ends of the floor on Wednesday night against the Rizing Fukuoka, one of the Western Conference’s most dangerous teams.
Swift had 11 first-half rebounds (16 total), four blocked shots and enough quick, catch-the-ball-and-read-the-defense passes to please any coach with an appreciation for fundamental smarts, but Tokyo made fewer big plays down the stretch than the pesky, talented visitors.
The Apache’s five-game winning streak ended with a 91-87 defeat to the Rizing at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 in the bj-league’s first contest after the All-Star Game on Sunday.
“We didn’t play hard enough tonight,” Tokyo coach Bob Hill said on the court after the game, stressing the need for a more concerted effort on defense.
“We’ll play better tomorrow.”
Michael Parker scored a game-best 23 points for Fukuoka (17-12) and Akitomo Takeno had 19, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range and 11 fourth-quarter points.
Jumpei Nakama paced the Apache (12-9) with 20 points, Cohey Aoki scored 15 and three teammates also reached double figures in points.
Apache teen forward Jeremy Tyler scored the final two baskets of the third quarter to give the hosts a 67-62 lead entering the final stanza.
The Rizing fought back, taking a 71-69 lead, but not for long as Nakama stepped up and canned a corner 3 to put the Apache back in front.
Fukuoka had a chance to add to its one-point edge with 5:44 left, but Nile Murry was called for an offensive foul to negate his basket, with Nakama standing his ground and taking the charge to the delight of the Apache fans.
Tokyo called a timeout with 3:49 remaining after Takeno’s 3 gave the Rizing an 81-74 lead, the largest of the fourth up to that point.
After missing a technical free throw, Takeno sank two regular foul shots with 36.8 left for an 85-80 Fukuoka cushion.
Takeno was back at the line for one-and-one with 25.9 seconds left and nailed them both to make it 87-82. Then Aoki made two fouls shots to cut it to three with 13.5 seconds remaining, as the classic late-game strategy sessions took place again for both bench bosses.
Thiago Cordeiro was the next to face the pressure at the line, with 12-plus seconds left, and hit both of his shots. The Apache quickly got the ball down the floor and Eaton sank a 3 to pull Tokyo within 89-87 with just under 7 seconds left.
Cordeiro missed the front end of a one-on-one and the ever-energetic Parker got the ball and went strong to the basket for the final points of an intense fourth quarter.
The Apache offense set itself up with a bread-and-butter play — the pick-and-roll — with Aoki and Swift setting up shop. Aoki’s game-opening jumper missed, but Kendall Dartez cleaned up inside, converting a putback. Tokyo scored on its next possession on a smooth Eaton springer for a 4-0 lead, and then the Rizing found their groove, pushing the tempo on defense and moving well on offense for a 9-4 Fukuoka lead.
Masahiro Kano’s layup pushed the visitors’ advantage to 14-6 with 4:22 to play in the first.
Tokyo regrouped, got within 18-12 on Swift’s tip-in of his own miss.
The Rizing lead stretched to 22-12 on Jun Nakanishi’s 3-ball, but ex-Tokyo teammate Nakama canned a 3-pointer at the other end for the final points of the opening quarter to make it 22-15.
Tokyo’s seven first-quarter offensive rebounds — the catalyst for second-chance points — helped the club in the opening stanza when it had a dismal 5-for-28 shooting effort.
Aoki, looking energized after playing in his fifth bj-league All-Star Game on Sunday — the only player to do so in league history — buried a 3-pointer and Tokyo slashed the lead to 38-35, triggering a timeout at the 2-minute mark by the out-of-towners.
Kano’s driving layup, courtesy of Takeno’s on-the-money pass, gave Fukuoka a 42-40 advantage at the half.
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