After a lousy first quarter against the Kawasaki Brave Thunders on Saturday, Sunrockers Shibuya coach BT Toews challenged his players to elevate their game in the series finale.
Veteran forward Kenta Hirose revealed later that Toews’ message focused on one thing: “intensity.”
That intensity and lock-down defense in the second half were key factors in Shibuya’s 84-71 triumph on Sunday over their Central Division nemesis at Aoyama Gakuin University Memorial Hall. In five of their previous meetings, Kawasaki had won every time this season.
Hirose said it was the team’s “biggest victory” of the season.
A day earlier, the Sunrockers dropped the series opener 87-80, clawing back after facing a 28-8 deficit after 10 minutes. They outscored the visitors 30-20 in the final quarter, but it wasn’t enough.
For Shibuya, Sunday’s opening quarter was an extension of the end of Saturday’s game. Toews’ club picked up where it left off the previous night.
Ira Brown sank the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer near the top of the arc. Ex-Los Angeles Lakers big man Robert Sacre made a hook shot and Aki Chambers buried a 3 from the left baseline, giving the hosts a fast start and an 8-0 advantage.
Moments later, Leo Vendrame scored on a layup and another Sacre hook shot increased the lead to 14-3.
“We performed the way we finished the game yesterday,” Toews told reporters later, analyzing the first quarter. “The intensity was good and then the ability to be able to score.”
Kawasaki called a timeout with 6:49 to play in the opening quarter.
The Brave Thunders regrouped and their offense got on track, especially league scoring leader Nick Fazekas, who had 12 first-quarter points. They trimmed the lead to 23-18 entering the second quarter.
The teams traded baskets in the second quarter, and the Sunrockers were still in front 47-44 at the break, which became decision time for Toews.
Noting his team’s strong shooting (54.3 percent overall) and Kawasaki’s similar output (50 percent), Toews explained that switching up the defense became the focal point of team’s second-half adjustments.
“I thought definitely this was the kind of game Kawasaki wants to play,” Toews told reporters, “not the game we want to play. We can score at this point, but if we don’t make life difficult for them defensively, then it was probably going to be a loss, and in the second half we did just that.”
In addition to holding the Brave Thunders to 27 second-half points, they limited Fazekas, who had 30 points in the series opener, to three second-half points.
“Nick was rolling in the first half,” Toews said of the Kawasaki star’s 17-point first half. “It was the same thing yesterday, but in the second half we decided to try to defend him as a team.”
Sacre and Brown and a host of teammates kept the pressure on Fazekas. Solid teamwork made it happen.
In short, the Sunrockers played a complete game on Sunday afternoon, getting double-digit scoring production from Sacre (18 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, two blocks), Brown (15 points, 10 boards), Chambers (13 points, six rebounds, two steals) and Vendrame (11 points). Hirose scored nine, but struggled from 3-point range (1-for-7). R.T. Guinn contributed eight points and Takashi Ito scored seven points and dished out three assists, sharing the team lead with Sacre and Yuki Mitsuhara.
The Sunrockers (29-26) are battling for a playoff spot, and have their sights set on securing second place in the Central Division. The Brave Thunders (45-10) have already clinched the division title, and the San-en NeoPhoenix (30-25) are a game ahead of Shibuya in the standings.
Teams have five contests left in the 60-game regular season.
“We played hard in the last five minutes, extremely hard, especially rebounding loose balls,” Toews said.
Fazekas led the Brave Thunders (45-10) with 20 points on 8-for-20 shooting and 14 rebounds. Ryan Spangler contributed 14 points and seven boards and Ryusei Shinoyama, who was 1-for-7 from 3-point range, scored 11 points. Naoto Tsuji had nine points and Yuma Fujii seven.
Shinoyama tied the game at 47-47 with a 3-pointer to get things going in the third quarter. It turned out to be the only tie score of the game.
Brown’s inside basket and subsequent free throw put the Sunrockers ahead 50-47 and a Sacre jam fired up the team seconds later.
Chambers completed the third-quarter scoring with 38.9 seconds left on the clock with a layup and a free throw, giving Shibuya a 62-56 lead. His energy, productivity and all-around hustle provided a microcosm of the Sunrockers’ afternoon.
In the fourth quarter, Spangler brought the Brave Thunders within 62-59 on a pair of free throws at the 9:45 mark.
Shibuya then used a key spurt to seal the victory.
Guinn canned a 3 from the right wing, and after a Yuya Nagayoshi jumper for Kawasaki, Ito sank a jumper to make it 67-61. After a Fazekas turnover, Hirose followed with a layup, slicing through the lane.
Sacre delivered a dunk and made a free throw with 6:57 remaining. That made it 72-61.
Repeated trips to the free-throw line filled the remaining minutes.
On one of those trips, Sacre canned two shots with a minute to go, giving the Sunrockers their largest lead (83-69) of the game.
“We just didn’t have the energy. We came out real lackadaisical in the beginning of the game,” Fazekas said, “and we could never dig out of the hole. We could never find a way to get the lead back. I think that we finally started to show a little bit of energy. But you don’t come out that flat and expect to win.”
Brave Thunders coach Takuya Kita commended his opponent for its effort.
“Shibuya played with a lot of energy,” Kita said.
Energy produced an in-sync performance for the Sunrockers at both ends of the floor, including Chambers.
On Saturday, Chambers had 16 points and five rebounds. After Chambers’ spirited performance on Sunday, Toews had this to say: “I thought he had a great weekend, just solid. It was hard for me to take him off the court.
“He doesn’t have to score a lot to be effective. . . . He’s a little bit more aggressive defensive recently, which is good.”
Reflecting on his performance, Chambers said, “I thought I played hard and that was my (focus) going in, especially after the loss yesterday, was just to come out on the defensive end and (make an impact).”
Jets 102, 89ers 61
In Chiba, the Jets jumped out to a 20-point lead by halftime and stretched the advantage to 78-44 entering the final quarter.
Hilton Armstrong was Chiba’s high scorer with 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including three dunks. Tyler Stone scored 18 points, Fumio Nishimura and Michael Parker both had 12-point efforts. Ryumo Ono supplied 11 points and Yuki Togashi added 10 points and five assists.
Parker, a defensive stopper for the Jets (39-16), had three steals and three blocks.
Greg Mangano scored 16 points and pulled down 16 rebounds for Sendai (13-42). Teammate Takayuki Kumagai scored 14 points.
The 89ers have lost seven straight games.
Lakestars 70, SeaHorses 65
In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, the Lakestars held Mikawa to 24-for-63 shooting from the field and salvaged a series split.
Yusuke Karino sparked Shiga (16-39) with 15 points, converting 3 of 6 3-point shots. Julian Mavunga had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Craig Brackins scored 13 points. Yosuke Sugawara finished with 12 points and seven boards and Narito Namizato contributed seven points, five assists and three steals.
Gavin Edwards led the SeaHorses (44-11) with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Kosuke Kanamaru had a 19-point game. Veteran guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi added seven points and five assists.
Brex 74, Northern Happinets 71
In Akita, Tochigi’s defense disrupted its opponent’s offensive rhythm to the tune of 20 turnovers, and the Brex picked up their second victory in as many days.
Tochigi’s Yusuke Endo was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in a 16-point afternoon and made three steals. Floor leader Yuta Tabuse, who had a quiet four-point outing, supplied five assists and four steals for the Brex (44-11). Ryan Rossiter notched a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Takatoshi Furukawa poured in 13 points, with Tommy Brenton (eight points, six boards) and Kosuke Takeuchi providing key contributions as well.
NeoPhoenix 71, Grouses 66
In Toyama, San-en dominated the fourth quarter and earned a series split.
The NeoPhoenix outscored the hosts 31-14 over the final 10 minutes.
Josh Childress paced San-en (30-25) with 21 points and nine rebounds. Tatsuya Suzuki scored 17 points, including 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. Shingo Okada and Atsuya Ota had 10 and eight points, respectively.
Dexter Pittman scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Toyama (16-39) and Naoki Uto also scored 17 points. Sam Willard chipped in with 15 points and eight rebounds and Takeshi Mito had an 11-point game.
Alvark 83, Levanga 61
In Sapporo, Tokyo’s offense clicked and the visitors hammered Hokkaido to complete a weekend sweep.
The Alvark sank 24 of 38 shots from inside the arc. Diante Garrett led Tokyo (40-15) with 19 points and Jeff Ayres and Zack Baranski had 13 points apiece. Baranski also collected four steals. Joji Takeuchi poured in 12 points, Trent Plaisted had nine points and Daiki Tanaka dished out a team-best four assists.
Daniel Miller scored 17 points for the Levanga (21-34). Jordan Bachynski added 10 points and nine rebounds, while Takehiko Orimo finished with nine points.
Diamond Dolphins 72, Hannaryz 68
In Nagoya, balanced scoring helped the Diamond Dolphins earn a bounce-back win over Kyoto.
Justin Burrell and Yoshiaki Fujinaga scored 13 points apiece for Nagoya (24-31). David Weaver and 22-year-old shooting guard Shuto Ando both scored 11 points. Fujinaga handed out four assists and the hosts finished with six double-digit scorers.
Marcus Dove paced the Hannaryz (24-31) with 15 points and corralled 10 rebounds. Genki Kojima had 13 points and six assists and Kevin Kotzur chipped in with 11 points and 11 boards.
B-Corsairs 81, Albirex BB 73
In Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, with a fast start in the first half, the hosts rode that momentum to a triumph over Niigata, ending a 10-game slide.
Takuya Kawamura led Yokohama (16-39) with 23 points. Jeff Parmer added 14 points and eight rebounds and Faye Pape Mour had 13 points and 10 boards, with Jason Washburn also scoring 13. Masashi Hosoya contributed 10 points.
The B-Corsairs led 47-27 at halftime.
Clint Chapman had 19 points and eight rebounds for the Albirex (24-31) and Stephan Van Treese’s 19-point performance included 8-for-9 shooting from the field. Shunki Hatakeyama added 10 points and four assists.
Evessa 83, Golden Kings 62
In Osaka, the hosts avenged their series-opening loss and took control of Sunday’s series finale from the get-go.
Ryukyu trailed 27-8 after one quarter.
Xavier Gibson led the Evessa (27-28) with 20 points and Takuya Hashimoto scored 14 and made three steals. Richard Roby contributed 12 points and three steals, Naoaki Hashimoto had 10 points and Josh Harrellson scored nine and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Golden Kings’ Shota Tsuyama drained three 3s in a 17-point outing. Reyshawn Terry finished with 16 points and seven rebounds for Ryukyu (26-29), which turned the ball over 18 times.
Here are Sunday’s results: Fighting Eagles Naoya 91, Tokyo Excellence 79; Shimane Susanoo Magic 94, Ehime Orange Vikings 49; Kagawa Five Arrows 76, Hiroshima Dragonflies 72; Fukushima Firebonds 80, Iwate Big Bulls 75; Ibaraki Robots 82, Yamagata Wyverns 75; Aomori Wat’s 85, Gunma Crane Thunders 78; Bambitious Nara 85, Earthfriends Tokyo Z 62; Kumamoto Volters 95, Kagoshima Rebnise 71; Shinshu Brave Warriors 79, Nishinomiya Storks 68.