The growing rivalry between the Aomori Wat’s and Fukushima Firebonds reached another level over the weekend, when fourth-quarter offensive fireworks intensified in both games.
In the series finale on Sunday, Aomori used a 30-point fourth quarter to close out a hard-fought 84-79 home win over the Firebonds.
Aomori put 42 points on the board in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
The Wat’s (22-26) had several impressive clutch performances, including Jesse Perry’s 30-point, 10-rebound game. He was 6-for-6 at the free-throw line. Nile Murry, meanwhile, added 17 points and went 8-for-8 at the line. Yuki Kitamuki canned all four of his 3-point shots en route to 16 points.
With a series sweep, eighth-place Aomori, a third-year franchise, solidified its place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With two weeks and four games left on its schedule in the bj-league’s final season, the Wat’s are one game ahead of the ninth-place Gunma Crane Thunders in the hunt for the East’s final playoff spot.
“We understood the importance of this game and wanted to put on a good show for our boosters,” Murry told The Japan Times after Sunday’s game. “I’m glad we were able to secure two victories on our home court against a playoff team.
“Both games were intense and both teams wanted to win, we just made more plays down the stretch in both games. We are fighting for a playoff spot (so) every game is important, especially the fourth quarter in close games. We have to be able to defend and make plays down the stretch in order to win games.
“We still have a ways to go but these two wins this weekend are a big step in the right direction.”
Perry agreed that the weekend sweep was a satisfying accomplishment for his team.
The games were very intense and competitive,” Perry told this newspaper. “It made us have to be at our best as a team. We are all happy to get both wins and continue to move forward toward the playoffs.
“They both were pretty tough games, but we made big shots and big plays to get the victories.”
Fukushima rookie Le’Bryan Nash, the All-Star Game MVP in January, had 39 points and 11 rebounds. He stepped to the charity stripe for 17 shots and sank 15 of them. The Oklahoma State product leads the league in scoring (26.6 points per game).
The Firebonds (28-20) sit in sixth place in the 12-team East and have clinched a playoff spot for the second straight season.
Next season, the Wat’s and Firebonds will both play in the new B. League, a 45-team, three-division circuit combining the NBL, NBDL and bj-league, in the second division, giving them an opportunity to renew their rivalry.
Golden Kings 112, Lightning 61
In Okinawa City, Ryukyu extended its winning streak to 15 games by handing Hiroshima its 40th straight defeat.
Big man Evan Ravenel had 24 points and 20 rebounds for the Western Conference-leading Golden Kings (38-10). He made 11 of 13 shots from the field.
Naoto Kosuge scored 23 points and Draelon Burns added 23 for the hosts. Morihisa Yamauchi handed out nine assists.
Ryukyu out-rebounded the Lightning 61-37.
Hiroshima (1-45) trailed 59-29 at halftime.
89ers 74, Crane Thunders 69
In Sendai, Wendell White’s 22-point, nine-rebound performance helped carry the 89ers to their second win in as many days over Gunma.
Terrance Shannon added 12 points and 13 rebounds for Sendai (35-13) and Fumiya Sato and Masaharu Kataoka both scored 10 points. Sato sank three 3-pointers. Takehiko Shimura contributed eight points, seven assists and two steals for the hosts.
Thomas Kennedy led the Crane Thunders (21-27) with 25 points, while Michael St. John finished with 10 points and 13 boards. Masashi Obuchi dished out five assists.
Brave Warriors 85, Albirex BB 76
In Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Yosuke Saito had his finest all-around game of the season, sparking Shinshu to a bounce-back win over Niigata.
Saito scored 19 points, including 5-for-9 on 3s, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. Mike Bell and Xavier Gibson both scored 16 points, with Bell hauling in a team-high 14 rebounds. Dai Suzuki scored 10 points for the Brave Warriors (24-24), who lost the series opener by 28 points.
Albirex star Wayne Arnold scored 31 points on a day he made 7 of 10 3-point shots. Ryan Reid and Kimitake Sato added 21 and 12 points, respectively, for Niigata (31-17).
Northern Happinets 76, B-Corsairs 74
In Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yuto Otsuka put 20 points on the board, getting 18 from 3-point land, and Shigehiro Taguchi scored 12 points as Akita completed a series sweep of Yokohama.
Ray Turner chipped in with 11 points, four steals and two blocks for the Northern Happinets (33-15). Richard Roby finished with 10 points, nine boards and six assists, while Scott Morrison added seven points and 11 boards and Akitomo Takeno had six points and four assists.
The B-Corsairs’ shooting woes were a problem throughout the game. They made 23 of 59 shots from the field and 16 of 26 at the line.
Jordan Henriquez-Roberts led Yokohama (18-30) with 19 points, Cory Johnson scored 14 and Kenji Yamada had 12 points and seven assists.
Grouses 112, Broncos 69
In Toyama, the title-chasing hosts pounded Saitama, sending the Broncos to their 15th straight loss.
Duke Crews paced Toyama (35-13) with 26 points and 11 rebounds and Drew Viney had 20 points and 14 boards. Takeshi Mito scored 18 points, knocking down four 3s. Masashi Joho contributed 16 points and 10 assists in the rout.
The Grouses out-rebounded the visitors 53-29.
Masaya Ueda scored 19 points for Saitama (4-44), and Seth Tarver added 15 points.
The Broncos shot 30 percent (12-for-40) from 2-point range.
Phoenix 75, Five Arrows 73
In Takamatsu, Kejuan Johnson, the league’s 2014-15 regular-season MVP, sparked Hamamatsu Higashimikawa with 20 points and Shingo Okada netted 12 as the reigning champions edged the hosts.
Tasuku Namizato chipped in with 10 points and four assists and Reggie Warren provided seven points, 16 rebounds and nine assists for the Phoenix (33-15). DeAngelo Kirkland scored eight points.
For the Five Arrows (11-37), Jarvis Williams had 30 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. Nino Johnson finished with 17 points and seven boards. Hiroyuki Kikuchi added 14 points.
HeatDevils 104, Rizing 98
In Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, Chehales Tapscott’s 36-point, 11-rebound performance and Patrick Simon’s 16 points helped Oita Ehime rebound from a Saturday loss to the Rizing.
Point guard Takato Hara finished with 14 points and a season-high seven assists for the HeatDevils (16-32).
Josh Peppers had a team-best 24 points with 10 boards and five assists for Fukuoka (17-31). Donnavan Kirk scored 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting, and a pair of veteran guards who’ve played in the bj-league since its inception in 2005, Taishiro Shimizu and Cohey Aoki, chipped in with 17 and 13 points, respectively. Aoki also dished out five assists.
Hannaryz 95, Samuraiz 89 (OT)
In Fukuchiyama, Kyoto Prefecture, Tyren Johnson had 28 points and five assists and Kevin Kotzur filled the stat sheet with 26 points and 22 rebounds as the Hannaryz outlasted Kanazawa in overtime to complete a series sweep.
Koki Yabuuchi had 13 points and Shingo Utsumi scored 10 points for Kyoto (37-11).
Gyno Pomare paced the Samuraiz with 22 points and 14 rebounds and Masato Tsukino and Marshall Brown both scored 17 points for Kanazawa (26-22).
The Samuraiz shot 15-for-27 at the free-throw line.
Lakestars 58, Evessa 56
In Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture, Osaka’s 3-point shooting woes led to the team’s second loss in as many days.
The Evessa made 3 of 16 3s in the series finale and finished the weekend 4-for-32 from beyond the arc.
The game was tied at 11-11 after one quarter and 25-25 at halftime. Shiga took a 45-43 lead into the fourth quarter.
Julian Mavunga had 19 points, 15 rebounds and three steals for the Lakestars (32-16) and Yu Okada scored 16 points. Jeff Parmer finished with nine points and Yutaka Yokoe had five assists.
For Osaka (32-16), Olu Ashaolu had 14 points and 10 rebounds and DeAngelo Hamilton scored 14 points with nine boards. Lawrence Blackledge and Narito Namizato added nine and six points, respectively.