Sunday’s Dream Games presented a glimpse of the entertainment and talent that will be in the spotlight in the fall of 2016, when the Japan Professional Basketball League makes its debut.
The two-game preseason doubleheader brought hoop fans to Ota City General Gymnasium just weeks before the final NBL and bj-league seasons tip off, and a curious, spirited crowd of 3,643 witnessed an afternoon full of highlights and skill sets that shine in both leagues.
In the second game, the defending NBL champion Aisin SeaHorses topped the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, the 2014-15 bj-league title winner, 83-73, pulling ahead to stay in the fourth quarter. The SeaHorses were the more effective, consistent team down the stretch.
In the afternoon opener, the Toyota Alvark, the 2014-15 NBL championship runnerup, powered past the undermanned Akita Northern Happinets 98-66. Akita, which placed second to Hamamatsu in last season’s bj-league title contest, trailed by eight after the opening quarter, but failed to match Toyota’s intensity over the final 30 minutes.
Hamamatsu’s Shingo Okada canned a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to pull his team within 60-58. Aisin big man Gavin Edwards, who scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, answered with an inside bucket to put his team in front by four points to close out the quarter.
Aisin completed an 8-0 run on an Edwards hook shot to take a 68-58 lead early in the final period.
Hamamatsu trimmed the deficit to four after back-to-back 3-pointers by newcomer Addison Spruill, who scored a team-best 21 points, but never got any closer the rest of the way.
Four SeaHorses players scored in double digits, including Edwards, guard Makoto Hiejima (20 points), center Isaac Butts (13 points, 14 rebounds) and swingman Kosuke Kanamaru (13 points, four assists).
Aisin shot 50 percent (23-for-46) from inside the 3-point arc and went 22-for-32 at the foul line. Hamamatsu was 3-for-7 on free throws, and shot 37.8 percent overall from the field. (The Phoenix were whistled for 25 fouls; the SeaHorses were charged with 10.)
Power forward Reggie Warren, a Phoenix newcomer, had 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Shinnosuke Oishi and Tasuku Namizato each had nine points for Hamamatsu.
Hamamatsu led 19-14 after one quarter.
Namizato had the hot hand late in the opening half, drilling three 3s in rapid succession, giving his club a 38-28 lead with 2:48 on the clock before the break.
The Phoenix took a 41-36 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Aisin coach Kimikazu Suzuki admitted Sunday’s game was a formidable challenge.
“We know that the people in the bj-league have worked hungrily,” Suzuki said. “We hadn’t had a chance to cross paths before, but we knew their feelings toward the sport and we couldn’t have played players who wouldn’t play at full strength.
“So we played for the entire 40 minutes with a full responsibility. We ended up winning today, but the Hamamatsu Phoenix are a very good team.”Toyota took an 81-45 advantage into the fourth quarter and effectively took away Akita’s dribble-drive penetration throughout the game.
“We tried to play hard from the beginning so we wouldn’t get behind mentally,” Taguchi said. “Because the opponents had better skills and potential, we tried to play as a team. But still there were moments we weren’t attacking enough, and that’s why we let them have as much of a lead as they had.”
Despite the loss, the chance to participate in the marquee event resonated with Akita coach Makoto Hasegawa.
“First off, we were given this opportunity and we would like to express our appreciation for the Japan Basketball Association,” Hasegawa told reporters.
After the game, Hasegawa also spoke candidly about the loss.
“We weren’t able to play our own brand of ball this time,” Hasegawa said after his team shot 39.4 percent from the field, committed 20 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle (53-28 to Toyota).
“Our point guards weren’t able to bring the ball (into the frontcourt) and defend (Toyota’s players) inside. As a result, we didn’t play our offense as we wanted to.
“But some of our players played well and some didn’t individually-wise. So we would like to see who’s good and who’s not toward the season opener.”
For the Northern Happinets, the lopsided loss gives them motivation moving forward.
“(The Alvark) were better than we’d imagined,” Hasegawa said. “I thought that we’d get beaten by 20, 30 points. Both their Japanese and imports are better than ours. But it’s going to be our issue to play keeping our concentration until the end in a game like this.
‘As you saw in today’s game, I don’t think that the bj-league is better. Toyota was a better team. So toward next year (for the new league), we are going to have to work harder and raise our level, otherwise, there are going to really be tough battles awaiting us next year.”
Taguchi agreed with Hasegawa that Akita must learn from Sunday’s game and make necessary adjustments before the season tips off.
“We made some turnovers moving the ball (to the frontcourt), and that ruined the game for sure,” Taguchi said. “That’s our issue and we are going to have to improve that by the season opener…”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
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