The Ryukyu Golden Kings built a big enough cushion — 19 points to be precise — to sustain a spirited Osaka Evessa comeback. And that’s exactly what they did.
The Evessa cut it to five in the final minute, but suffered an 82-76 defeat to their archrival in the bj-league’s Western Conference final on Saturday night at Ariake Colosseum. Ryukyu, the 2008-09 champion, advanced to the title game against the Eastern Conference final champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix. Sunday’s title match tips off at 5:05 p.m.
David Palmer paced the Golden Kings, the regular-season conference champ, with 24 points and Anthony McHenry poured in 23, including a pair of big dunks that he said “gave the team a spark.”
Kings standout Carlos Dixon scored 20, Shigeyuki Kinjo had eight and Naoto Kosuge added seven. Big man Jeff Newton, whose 50 points propelled the Kings past the Evessa in the conference final two seasons ago, didn’t score in his 18-plus minutes, finishing with three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Nursing an ankle injury that kept him out of the Shiga Lakestars series two weeks ago, Newton was about 60 percent, coach Dai Oketani said. But having Newton in the game, as a vital player, “helped make the other players better,” the coach said.
Said McHenry: “We (wanted to use the zone) to keep them out of the paint.” With the man-to-man defense, he added, the key was to build a wall behind the person with the ball.
This approach helped to slow down Osaka point guard Kenny Satterfield, who finished 1-for-6 shooting with four points, though he did have six assists. Blackwell said Sattefield was aggressive in creating shots for his teammates, but they were not always capitalizing on open shots or space the defense gave them.
Washington, the linchpin of the three Evessa title-winning team, had a team-high 25 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter to spearhead Osaka’s comeback. Veteran teammate Billy Knight contributed 23 points and 9-for-10 shooting at the line. Center Wayne Marshall scored 12 points.
The Evessa were 19-for-49 from inside the 3-point arc as Ryukyu’s disciplined 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense worked well throughout the game.
“Hats off to Okinawa,” first-year Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell said. “They had a good game plan. We fought back twice, but in the third quarter, we just didn’t get back on defense.”
Washington said, “It sucks to lose.” He added that “every time I come here to Ariake I am confident (in leading) the team to victory. I always feel I’m prepared (to do that).”
Palmer, on the other hand, was all smiles after the triumph.
“It was a hard fought game,” he said. “We were able to keep fighting for the win.”
The players, though, gave Oketani a reason to voice his disgust on the sideline. “He was angry we let them get back in the game in the fourth quarter,” Palmer admitted.”
Last season, Osaka handed Ryukyu a stunning 84-56 defeat in the West final. For the third straight year, the teams faced off in the West final, giving the teams’ loyal fans another chance to show their enthusiasm from the get-go.
The Evessa, vying for their fifth title game appearance in six seasons, trailed 64-49 after three quarters, not an impossible hole to dig out of, but a major obstacle to overcome.
Blackwell’s charges were down 68-49 after sharpshooter Palmer flushed a pair of baseline jumpers from right side on back-to-back possessions.
Through three quarters, the Evessa were 16-for-51 from the field, including 1-for-11 on 3s. The Golden Kings were 21-for-52 entering the fourth quarter, but that included 18-for-33 on 2s, including 10-for-14 combined for Palmer and McHenry.
Washington picked up a pair of quick fouls in the first quarter, sending him to the bench early. When he re-entered the game at the 5:47 mark of the second, the Golden Kings led 25-17, with the last three of those points coming on a McHenry jam and his free throw.
The Golden Kings turned a one-point game into a 32-30 lead courtesy of a 13-3 run, including Palmer and Kinjo 3-pointers.
But the Evessa rallied back, getting big production from Knight to close out the half. He scored eight points during a 10-2 spurt to pull Osaka within 34-34 with 39.1 seconds left in the half.
Palmer then drilled three free throws after being fouled in the act of shooting a long-range shot, pushing the Ryukyu lead back to five. Yonamine produced the final points of the half at the charity stripe. That made it 39-32, Ryukyu.
In the East Conference final, Ray Nixon scored 25 points and Jeffrey Parmer added 23 to lead a well-balanced offensive attack as the Phoenix routed the Niigata Albirex BB 88-74 to reach the title game for a second straight season.
The Phoenix, boosted by Masahiro Oguchi’s nine points and eight apiece by Shingo Okada and Dzaflo Larkai, made 21 of 32 shots from inside the 3-point arc and got timely 3s to keep the Albirex from putting together any sustained runs in the final three periods.
The Albirex trailed by as many as 27 points, falling behind 80-53 on Oguchi’s second free throw with midway through the fourth.
Like a fighter delivering a series of hard punches to the gut before throwing the knockout punch, the Phoenix’s aggressive play on defense and ball movement created an impressive performance for those in attendance.
“That’s just how we wants us to play,” said Nixon, referring to coach Kazuo Nakamura’s game plan. “We play as hard as we can for 40 minutes . . . from start to finish.”