A strong third-quarter performance lifted the Alvark Tokyo and transformed the outcome of Sunday’s B. League Championship quarterfinal contest against the San-en NeoPhoenix.
Defensively, the Alvark were tenacious in that game-changing stanza en route to an 83-74 Game 2 victory at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.
Fourth-seeded Tokyo, which trailed 38-34 at halftime, held the visitors to nine third-quarter points, while nearly doubling that output with 17 points. That set the stage for the hosts’ 32-point outburst in the fourth quarter, which was fueled by a 15-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters.
The Alvark (46-16) defeated the fifth-seeded NeoPhoenix 90-75 in Game 1 on Saturday.
Diante Garrett scored nine of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter and handed out seven assists in the game, while Jeff Ayres and Joji Takeuchi both had seven in the final period. Tokyo sealed the victory by making 16 of 18 free throws in the final quarter.
Former Arizona State and NBA forward Ayres was the primary contributor at the foul line, making 13 of 14 shots and accounting for almost all of his 15 points.
“For me,” Ayres said, “I take pride in my free throws, so I want to make sure I make them and I kind of really focused and dialed in and tried to knock them down.”
Did Ayres expect to get to the line that many times?
Ayres said the flow of the game and his aggressive play helped make it possible, but admitted he was surprised he took that many free throws.
“I was just doing what we had in the scouting (report), and just taking what they were giving us,” he said. “The refs were calling a lot of fouls both ways (22 apiece), so I just happened to get fouled when we were in the bonus.
“It just ended up working out that way.”
Robert Dozier finished with 21 points, Josh Childress had 20 and 10 rebounds and Tatsuya Suzuki scored 11 for the NeoPhoenix (33-29). Center Atsuya Ota added seven points, with five teammates scoring three points apiece.
The Alvark offense was somewhat lethargic in the first half and they weren’t making shots with regularity, converting 13 of 38 shots (34.2 percent) from the field before halftime. More than anyone else, Daiki Tanaka kept his club from falling behind by a big margin, scoring nine second-quarter points.
The NeoPhoenix led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter.
At halftime, it was time for adjustments for the Alvark, whose defensive tactics worked better as a unit during the final 20 minutes of the game.
“San-en is one of the best teams in terms of playing as a team and we’ve got a boost by defeating such as team,” Tokyo coach Takuma Ito said. “We were able to make adjustments on what we did in the first half, keeping our concentration and were able to play the basketball we wanted to play in the second half.”
Indeed, a four-point halftime deficit isn’t huge. Coaches look for a spark from anyone who can provide it.
In the third quarter, Zack Baranski had nine of his 12 points, providing a big spark.
After a Tatsuya Suzuki 3-pointer put the NeoPhoenix in front 47-43, Baranski helped jump-start the Tokyo comeback. He sank a nifty turn-around jumper from the right baseline.
Moments later, Ayres sank two free throws to tie it at 47-47 with 2:39 to play in the third.
Baranski sank a jumper in the lane to give his club a 49-47 lead as the big run continued.
The NeoPhoenix trailed 51-47 after three quarters.
With the Alvark offense starting to click on all cylinders, big man Trent Plaisted delivered a crisp pass to Garrett, who scored a layup on a backdoor cut for the first points of the fourth quarter. Taishi Ito’s two free throws increased the margin to 55-47, and Garrett canned a 3 from the left wing to make it 58-47.
Looking back on that pivotal run, Ayres had this to say, “It was huge. We talked about it at halftime that we didn’t need to be too down. We were playing really well. We’re getting good shots, (but) we’re just not making them, but we need to make an emphasis on defense.
“We couldn’t let our offense dictate how our defense was going to be. So we knew we could play better defense, get stops, get going in transition and that would help our offense in the long run. . . . And our offense just kind of picked up from there.”
Six Alvark players grabbed five or more rebounds. Tokyo outrebounded San-en 41-37.
“We weren’t able to get on our rhythm in the first half, but regrouped in the second half,” Coach Ito said. “Especially Diante, he didn’t play very well in the first half, but changed his mind set and played better, using other players around him, and it was (one) of the reasons that led us to the win.
“We scored 49 points in the second half today, and that means we played in our own, fast pace. We play fast from defense and connect it to our quick offense. When we play like that, we have an edge.”
San-en was held to six assists and turned the ball over 11 times.
Looking ahead, the Alvark will face the host Kawasaki Brave Thunders in the semifinals on Friday and Saturday at Todoroki Arena.
In the other semifinal series, the Tochigi Brex will play host to the SeaHorses Mikawa on Saturday and Sunday.
“We came up short for posting a win, which was our goal coming in this series, but both days our boosters supported us so much,” NeoPhoenix bench boss Hiroki Fujita told reporters. “And this is a great team that our players became as one and executed well. And it’s been real fun to be a coach for this team and it was such a pleasant season for me. I’m so proud of this team.”
Fujita was pleased with his team’s solid start on offense, noting the big spark that Dozier provided in the first half, which included 13 first-quarter points on 4-for-5 shooting.
“We made adjustments from yesterday’s game and played well in the first half and said to ourselves that we wanted to continue to play like that,” Fujita said. “Dozier was playing well in the first (half). He scored 15 points in it. He was good both inside and outside and got us on a roll in the first.”
San-en’s third-quarter offensive slump — 1-for-5 on 3s and 2 of 11 from inside the arc — changed the course of the game.
Looking back on that 10-minute span, Fujita admitted that his team “had a period when our offense did not work.”
He added: “During that time, we got a little stiff, didn’t make shots and tried to put the ball inside a little too much. And we weren’t able to make shots in the paint. But the Alvark made shots when they needed when we didn’t want them to. So that hurt.”
Tanaka had 12 of his 16 points in the first half for Tokyo. His fiery demeanor helped energize his team during 34-plus minutes on the court.
Despite making a big impact on the game, Tanaka felt he could’ve done more.
“When I made shots in the second quarter, it gave me a boost afterward,” he said. “But I thought I could have played even more aggressively in the second half.”
With the two wins over the NeoPhoenix in the books, Tanaka reflected on what it took: “We knew it would be a tough series, so we thought that we should not get behind mentally against them.”
As for San-en, Childress said it simply boiled down to the fact that Tokyo made more baskets in Sunday’s game while his team’s offense came up short.
Brave Thunders 98, Sunrockers 82
In Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, the top-seeded hosts jumped out to a 51-26 halftime lead and completed a two-game sweep of Shibuya.
Nick Fazekas finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds for Kawasaki (51-11) and Ryusei Shinoyama poured in 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Ryan Spangler added 16 points and four assists and Naoto Tsuji had 11 points, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range.
Takahiro Kurihara sparked the Brave Thunders with 10 points and three assists and Takumi Hasegawa provided six points, four assists and two steals.
Kawasaki made 63.9 percent of its shots from inside the arc and 12 of 22 from 3-point range.
For the eight-seeded Sunrockers (32-30), Robert Sacre had 25 points and 12 rebounds and Leo Vendrame chipped in with 15 points and five assists.
Ira Brown added 13 points, eight boards and five assists for Shibuya, which cut the hosts’ lead to 71-61 entering the fourth quarter. Sunrockers veteran Kenta Hirose had 10 points.
Brex 77, Jets 70
In Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, the Brex trailed 33-13 after one quarter but dominated in the second half to overtake Chiba and pull out a victory in the series finale, completing a two-game sweep.
Tochigi coach Tom Wisman’s team outscored the Jets 49-27 in the second half.
The second-seeded Brex (48-14) held the visitors to 2-for-21 shooting from beyond the arc.
Versatile forward Jeff Gibbs, a former NCAA Division III champion for Otterbein (Ohio) University, led Tochigi with 19 points, including three dunks, and pulled down eight rebounds. Ryan Rossiter and Takatoshi Furukawa both had 13 points, Yutaro Suda scored 11 and Yusuke Endo had 10. Ex-Phoenix Suns point guard Yuta Tabuse provided six points and four assists in the win.
Seventh-seeded Chiba, the league’s most prolific 3-point shooting team during the regular season, shot 2-for-21, with Yuki Togashi and Tyler Stone both 0-for-5.
Stone had a double-double (19 points, 11 boards) for the Jets (44-18). Ryumo Ono scored 15 points and Togashi added 13 points and five assists. Michael Parker scored 12 points and Hilton Armstrong had eight.
SeaHorses 81, Golden Kings 75
In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Kosuke Kanamaru’s 19-point performance and Gavin Edwards’ double-double helped guide the third-seeded hosts past Ryukyu for the second straight day.
Edwards contributed 12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two block for Mikawa (48-14), while Makoto Hiejima had 18 points and six boards. Isaac Butts (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Shinsuke Kashiwagi (seven points, four assists, three steals) provided expected contributions. J.R. Sakuragi added 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting with two assists and two steals.
The SeaHorses led 38-34 at halftime.
For the sixth-seeded Golden Kings (29-33), Ryuichi Kishimoto scored 15 points and dished out eight assists and Ryunosuke Watanabe had 14 points and eight rebounds. Anthony McHenry and Lamont Hamilton chipped in with 11 points apiece, with Reyshawn Terry and Kazuya “J.” Hatano both scoring six.
Asked what was the key to victory in Game 2, Sakuragi said it came down to defense.
“We were inconsistent on offense, which allowed them to hang around late in the game,” Sakuragi told The Japan Times. “But to our defense we had a couple guys out that had just returned, which bothered our chemistry a bit.
“We are headed in the right direction and I feel confident in the next round.”
Dragonflies 53, Susanoo Magic 52 (Game 2)
Susanoo Magic 11, 9 (Game 3, tiebreaker mini-game)
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Seiya Tanaka hit a go-ahead jumper with 3:13 left and Hiroshima held on down the stretch to force a mini-game tiebreaker.
In Game 2, Josh Davis led the hosts with 12 points and 13 boards, while Hayato Kantake and Wayne Marshall scored 11 and nine points, respectively.
Connor Lammert had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Dragonflies. Daiji Yamada added 10 points and Seiji Ikaruga contributed 10 points and four assists.
In the 10-minute tiebreaker, which was divided into two five-minute quarters, Jun Abe, Marshall and Tatsuhiro Yokoo all scored three points for Shimane (53-10). Davis blocked three shots.
Australian Daniel Dillon, a University of Arizona alum, paced Hiroshima (47-16) with four points.
Susanoo Magic coach Michael Katsuhisa’s club advances to the second-division final against the Nishinomiya Storks on May 20 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2
The Dragonflies will meet the Gunma Crane Thunders in the third-place game on the same day at Yoyogi.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.