Bench players Tomoya Hasegawa and Shinsuke Kashiwagi came through to lead the Aisin SeaHorses past the Toyota Alvark with a 69-67 victory in Game 1 of the their NBL playoff semifinal series at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 on Saturday.

Aisin, the reigning league champion, needs one more win to advance to the NBL Finals. The series will resume on Sunday afternoon at the same venue for Game 2.

Hasegawa, who was acquired by the SeaHorses before this season after playing for the NBDL’s Otsuka Corporation Alphas for three seasons, nailed 4 of 7 3-point shots and posted a team-high 14 points for the Aichi Prefecture-based club. Kashiwagi, a former MVP in the JBL (the NBL’s predecessor), made some key shots, racking up eight points.

“Making shots is my job, so I’m glad I did that today,” said Hasegawa, who averaged just 4.5 points a game during the regular season. “I was able to come up with a result like this playing on such a big stage, and I could say I’ve made some growth.”

Aisin head coach Kimikazu Suzuki said that Hasegawa had a difficult time adjusting to his new team earlier this season. But the coach patiently kept using him because he knew his team would eventually need Hasegawa’s contributions.

“It’s been tough both for us and for him,” Suzuki said. “But he’s finally showed us what he can do.”

Both teams displayed body-banging physical battles at both ends of the floor, making the contest a low-scoring game.

Sharpshooter Kosuke Kanamaru drained two 3-pointers and Aisin built an 11-point lead in the third quarter. But Toyota rallied back in the final period, retrieving its chance to win the ballgame.

With the Alvark trailing by three points with less than 10 seconds in the game, Toyota’s Jeff Gibbs earned a trip to the foul line. The American center hit the first one, but missed his second shot. A Toyota player grabbed the offensive rebound and a few Alvark players tried to score, but they missed multiple attempts.

Kanamaru then grabbed a rebound and the game ended.

As seen during the final key sequence, Toyota completely dominated on the offensive boards, pulling down 24 of them among its 52 overall rebounds. Conversely, Aisin had 39 total rebounds. But Toyota struggled capitalizing on its second-chance scoring opportunities, and that was a big factor in the team’s Game 1 loss.

As a result, the Alvark’s 16-game winning streak, which started during the regular season, was halted.

“This is a huge win for us, because when you win in a close game, it gives your opponent bigger damage,” Suzuki said.

For the SeaHorses, American big man Isaac Butts and Kanamaru scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Toyota, which posted the league’s best regular-season record (47-8), is now on the verge of being eliminated. But its head coach, Takuma Ito, considered it a positive sign that his squad bounced back and gave itself a chance to win the game despite its offensive struggles.

“We’ve gone through so many times that we had our back against the wall like this,” said Ito, a first-year head coach. “And every time, we came through and made growth. We are going to play better tomorrow and hopefully it will lead to our further growth.”

For Toyota, Gibbs and young Japanese player Daiki Tanaka led the team with 18 points apiece.

Brex 76, Brave Thunders 55

In Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, regular-season MVP Ryan Rossiter had 19 points and 11 rebounds as Link Tochigi cruised past Toshiba in Game 1 of their semifinal series.

Veteran sharpshooter Takatoshi Furukawa went 3-for-5 from behind the 3-point arc en route to 12 points for the Brex.

For Toshiba, Nick Fazekas had 18 points.

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