More than the final score indicated, the Aisin SeaHorses dominated the game, making the Toshiba Brave Thunders look vulnerable.
The defending league champions outplayed their opponents at both ends of the floor in a 74-63 win in Game 2 of the NBL Finals before a crowd of 2,949 at Ota City General Gymnasium on Sunday.
Aisin, a six-time league champion (including in the JBL, the NBL’s forerunner), now leads the series 2-0 and needs one more victory to capture back-to-back titles.
The third game will tip off at 7 p.m. on Monday at the same arena.
Unlike in Saturday’s Game 1, Aisin got off to a good start in the first quarter to set the pace, and its defense stepped up every time the Brave Thunders tried to start a rally to cut their deficit.
“Yesterday, we were a little too passive against Toshiba early on and we thought we’d have to improve that,” said Aisin captain and point guard Ryoma Hashimoto, who gave a boost to his team by scoring 13 points in the opening quarter. “We played well in the first quarter and played patiently in the third and fourth quarters as well. It feels good that we won the game leading by more than 10 points in the end.”
For the second day in a row, Aisin dominated underneath the basket. Led by big Americans Gavin Edwards and Isaac Butts, it outscored Toshiba 38-18 inside the paint.
Forward/center Edwards, who played in the NCAA Final Four in 2009 for the University of Connecticut, led the SeaHorses with 18 points. Butts racked up 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Butts matched up against Nick Fazekas and attempted to embarrass the Toshiba big man by banging his body inside the painted area.
“That’s my job being physical inside, so I hope I did a good job doing it today,” said Butts, who stands 208 cm and weighs 133 kg.
Against the SeaHorses’ stingy defense, the Brave Thunders seemed stuck offensively. Fazekas scored 20 and Mamadou Diouf followed with 16, but nobody else had more than seven points for the Kawasaki-based club, which grabbed the NBL title in the 2013-14 season.
“We’ve now taken a second straight loss, and it’s put us in a difficult situation,” Toshiba head coach Takuya Kita said. “Our players are playing hard, but how many points did we score today? Sixty-three? We haven’t scored points. Aisin’s got a powerful inside (lineup) and we’ve got to do something with it.”
While Kita said that his team has its back against the wall and would have no choice but win on Monday, he insisted that his players would need to communicate with each other better on the floor.
“Our players haven’t tried to correct their problems on the court, that’s our issue,” said Kita, whose squad committed 14 turnovers on Sunday. “You only have a limited number of timeouts. This is the Finals, you’ve got to do it right now.”
By contrast, the SeaHorses can do that. Veteran point guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi said that he and his teammates know what they are supposed to do in the game.
“Every game, you have to adjust to your opponents,” he said. “We don’t know how Toshiba is going to play tomorrow, but we’ll just have to adjust to it.”
With the Sunday win, the SeaHorses extended their unbeaten postseason streak to six. Going back to the regular season, they have won 10 in a row.
“We’re playing how Aisin’s supposed to play right now,” said Kashiwagi, a former JBL MVP.