Sunday night’s marquee matchup between the Alvark Tokyo and Tochigi Brex provided a glimpse of what to expect during the playoffs to close out the B. League’s inaugural season.
A dogfight — intense competition from start to finish.
This time, though, the Brex seized momentum when it mattered most, dominated the fourth quarter and walked off the court with an invigorating 74-66 victory in the series opener.
After the win at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2, Brex forward Kosuke Takeuchi flashed a big smile, and Tochigi coach Tom Wisman high-fived a cross section of the team’s loyal supporters near their baseline seats, not far from the visitors’ bench.
Tochigi (32-8) held the hosts to 10 fourth-quarter points while doubling that total on offense.
The Brex’s defense clicked in the fourth, forcing 10 turnovers and holding the Alvark (30-10) to a pair of two-point field goals in the quarter.
In essence, the Tokyo offense was shut down in crunch time. Losing possession time after time after time, the Alvark only managed to attempt seven shots from the field over the final 10 minutes. Not enough against a powerful foe.
The Brex made eight fourth-quarter steals. All-Star forward Ryan Rossiter had three of them, with his long arms and teammates’ pressure defense contributing to the cause.
“We made (big) plays on the defensive end,” Wisman said, describing his team’s spirited effort.
The Alvark, averaging 84.3 points a game, were limited to 42 points over the final three quarters. What’s more, Tokyo’s scoring output decreased in each of the four frames — from 24 to 19 to 13 to 10.
Wisman praised Yuta Tabuse and Jeff Gibbs for spearheading the defensive effort. Indeed, their defensive positioning and help in trapping Tokyo players was impressive.
With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Japan basketball icon Tabuse delivered an energetic spark to his club, running swiftly with control and converting back-to-back layups midway through the fourth.
The second deuce gave the Brex their first lead of the half, 66-64 with about 4:40 left.
“He’s a great player and he steps up in big games,” Wisman said of the 36-year Tabuse, who played 27-plus minutes and got a key breather in the third quarter while fellow guard Hironori Watanbe, who finished with eight points, provided a spark off the bench.
The Alvark were coming unglued at the same time.
Simultaneously, Tochigi used a 13-0 run, initiated by defensive hustle, timely steals and excellent outlet passes, to take a 73-64 lead on a Gibbs layup near the 4-minute mark.
“We knew that we had to dig in defensively,” Wisman said, adding that his team “needed a run.”
Tochigi delivered both.
In one of the top defensive performances by any B. League team this season, the Brex collected 11 steals and each of their five blocks, including two by Kosuke Takeuchi, seemed to put a roadblock on the Alvark’s attempted spurt.
Tokyo couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch.
Alvark bench boss Takumi Ito acknowledged that turnovers were a problem in the fourth quarter.
Looking back on the game, he said that Tochigi’s “defensive pressure increased in the second half.”
Rossiter scored a game-high 19 points and led all players in rebounds (12) in 34 productive minutes. Tabuse finished with 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting with four assists and three steals. Takatoshi Furukawa poured in 12 points and Gibbs had 11, seven during the pivotal fourth quarter. Kosuke Takeuchi supplied seven points and six rebounds.
Tabuse noted that veteran instincts took over in the fourth quarter, while driving inside “patience” and “aggressive play” proved important elements of the victory.
With a prime-time audience of 3,236 at Yoyogi and growing popularity of the B. League, Tabuse spoke about “giving the fans a show” while gathered before the press after the game.
For Tokyo, newcomer Jeff Ayres, playing in his third game for the Alvark, had 16 points, but none in the fourth quarter. He made 7 of 9 shots on the night, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc, and swatted two shots. Dynamic guard Diante Garrett matched Ayres’ scoring total, but had only five points after his dominating 11 in the first quarter.
Daiki Tanaka poured in nine points and handed out a team-high four assists. Joji Takeuchi, Kosuke’s twin, finished with eight points and nine rebounds for the Alvark, while Shohei Kikuchi also scored eight points.
Both teams corralled 40 rebounds, with Tochigi holding a 15-10 edge on the offensive glass.
Entering the final stanza in the series opener, the Brex trailed 56-54. Poor free-throw shooting had been an issue all game for the visitors, who had made 5 of 13 in the first three quarters.
The teams renew their rivalry with 7:15 game on Monday night at the same venue, and Wisman doesn’t expect a cakewalk.
“We beat a good team today. We know it’s going to be tough tomorrow,” he said. Wisman described the Alvark as being “tough and desperate” and “up for the task”
In a feisty first half with hard-nosed defense and relentless energy to pursue rebounds, both teams worked the ball in halfcourt sets.
Repeatedly, both teams went inside, utilizing the strong skills of various players near the basket.
But Garrett, a former NBA guard, had the hot hand for the Alvark in the opening quarter, scoring 11 points, including 3-for-3 on 3-point shots.
Keyed by its 14-7 rebounding advantage and a 12-0 run to close out the opening stanza, Tokyo took a 24-15 lead into the second quarter.
Entering the second period, both teams had scored 10 points in the paint.
The Brex offense was streaky in the first half, with several missed shots in a row followed by a stretches of several makes.
Tokyo took its biggest lead of the half (35-23) on a Tanaka pull-up jumper about four minutes into the second quarter.
Rossiter, held to two first-quarter points, scored 12 in the second quarter to help rally Tochigi to within four points by halftime. He was the visitors’ leading scorer before the break. Furukawa scored 10 first-half points and Tabuse provided eight with three assists.
The Brex were 0-for-6 at the foul line before intermission, including Rossiter’s 0-for-4. (They finished 8-for-17 for the game.)
For Tokyo, Garrett remained atop the scoring charts with 11 at halftime. He only attempted one second-quarter shot. Former NBA forward Ayres sparked the Alvark with eight points in the period, providing a imposing presence inside, including a powerful two-handed jam.
The objective, Wisman said later, was “not to give Jeff Ayres space. . . . We know he can shoot the ball.”
When the opening half ended, the Alvark had made 18 field goals; the Brex had 17 to their credit.
During the final 20 minutes of play, Gibbs and his teammates found a way to be better inside — at both ends of the court — and that helped spark the comeback.
Gibbs said that inside play was one of the key’s for his team in order to pull out a win.
Sunrockers 87, SeaHorses 66
In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Shibuya rebounded from Saturday’s loss to salvage a series split.
Kenta Hirose provided 25 points for the Sunrockers (20-21), making 9 of 10 shots from the field. He sank 8 of 10 free-throw shots. Teammate Ira Brown had 15 points and 10 boards, while Takashi Ito and Robert Sacre chipped in with 10 points apiece.
Shibuya outrebounded the hosts 41-37 and built a 45-31 lead by halftime
The SeaHorses (31-10) were held to 40.9 shooting from 2-point range.
Gavin Edwards and Masaaki Morikawa shared the team lead in points (14) for Mikawa. Big man Isaac Butts pulled down 12 rebounds in the loss.
Second-division update: Here are the results of Sunday’s B2 games: Fighting Eagles Nagoya 93, Fukushima Firebonds 77; Hiroshima Dragonflies 82, Aomori Wat’s 74; Kumamoto Volters 73, Iwate Big Bulls 57; Kagawa Five Arrows 68, Yamagata Wyverns 66; Ibaraki Robots 102, Bambitious Nara 76; and Gunma Crane Thunders 74, Shinshu Brave Warriors 63.