YOKOHAMA – Anyone who forgot that Kawasaki Brave Thunders star Nick Fazekas was the B. League’s 2016-17 MVP was reminded of his scoring prowess in the second half of Sunday’s series finale at Yokohama International Swimming Pool.
A big reminder.
Fazekas and his teammates had a relatively quiet first half against the Yokohama B-Corsairs, with Naoto Tsuji and Josh Davis carrying the offense in the opening 20 minutes.
After that, the Brave Thunders began to fire on all cylinders and Fazekas found his shooting rhythm. The former University of Nevada star scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half as the Brave Thunders defeated the B-Corsairs 91-80.
It was Kawasaki’s fourth straight win. Coach Takuya Kita’s club, the championship runner-up a year ago, improved to 27-13, just two victories behind the East Division co-leaders, Alvark Tokyo and Chiba Jets Funabashi.
Kawasaki trailed 40-37 at halftime. A day earlier, the Brave Thunders led 55-38 at intermission.
Fazekas, averaging 25.5 points per game (No. 2 in the league), sank 5 of 7 shots in the third quarter and put 15 points on the board in the game-changing stanza.
By the end of the 10-minute quarter, the visitors, who were cheered by a large throng of local fans, had scored 27 points and taken a 64-59 lead.
The Kawasaki offense heated up first.
The second half began with Fazekas misfiring on a leftwing jumper, and Hasheem Thabeet converting an old-school three-point play to give Yokohama a 43-37 lead seconds into the half.
Kawasaki quickly changed the narrative.
This included a 14-2 run early in the third quarter, a spurt that showcased Fazekas’ repertoire of mid-range, outside and inside moves. Takumi Hasegawa ignited the run with a 3-pointer on a quality possession for Kita’s club in which all five players made at least one pass before Hasegawa unleashed his long-range shot. That pulled the visitors to within 43-30.
For Fazekas, a nifty catch-and-shoot jumper from the right baseline gave the Brave Thunders a 49-45 lead. He scored again seconds later, catching an inbound lob in the paint and scoring a short-range deuce, followed by a layup on a pick-and-roll seconds later after William McDonald had made a tip-in for Yokohama.
The momentum had shifted to Kawasaki and the hosts, struggling with an inconsistent effort at both ends of the floor, couldn’t wrest it back from the Brave Thunders.
The hosts trailed by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Yokohama coach Shota Shakuno acknowledge that his team’s seven third-quarter turnovers provided opportunities for Kawasaki to seize control of the game.
Indeed, Fazekas energized his teammates, but it was also a collective response to their halftime adjustments.
Said Fazekas: “I just think we went into halftime and said we’ve got to play with more energy. I think Yokohama had more energy than us in the first half. When you watch the game yesterday, from start to finish we just had more energy — we played faster, quicker, we were just one step ahead of them. But that wasn’t the case in the first half and when we went into halftime, we told ourselves, ‘Hey, let’s try to do what we did yesterday: get out into transition.’
“(Because) once we get out into transition, we have so many guys that can do so many different things, that once that ball gets moving, it’s really hard to rotate (on defense), and we’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot.”
Davis had a terrific yet efficient performance, scoring 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, hauling in seven rebounds (five offensive), dishing out three assists and rejecting a pair of shots. He was also the recipient of a textbook alley-oop pass from Fazekas and slammed the ball through the hoop for a dunk.
While Davis patrolled the paint, Tsuji delivered pinpoint passes, setting up his teammates for good looks on the perimeter and inside, too.
Tsuji finished with 14 points, making 4 of 8 3-pointers and doling out six assists without a turnover. He worked brilliantly in tandem with Davis and Fazekas, but also helped get Yuya Kamata (10 points) and Yuma Fujii (seven points) involved on offense.
On Saturday, Yokohama lost the series opener 105-75 in the first meeting between the Kanagawa Prefecture rivals this season
In a scrappy first half in the rematch, the B-Corsairs trailed 21-20 after one quarter, then took the aforementioned slim lead into the break.
Asked about the team’s goal for the second half of the game, Tsuji responded by saying, Kawasaki “really wanted to have a smart passing game.”
For the most part, the Brave Thunders accomplished that goal.
They had a sloppy first half (10 assists, 10 turnovers). They finished with 27 and 17, thanks in part to several timely baskets in the third and fourth quarters.
Tsuji’s team received a big boost from savvy playmaker Hasegawa, who registered eight assists, zero turnovers and four steals.
Thabeet led the B-Corsairs with 20 points, collected three steals and blocked two shots. Jotaro Mitsuda provided an inspiring 18-point performance, while Jeff Parmer and McDonald scored 12 and 11 points, respectively. Takuya Kawamura finished with nine points, and attempted (and made) one 3-pointer.
Kita said that a focal point of his team’s defense was to limit Kawamura’s scoring opportunities on the perimeter, especially from 3-point range.
The Brave Thunders’ energy and hustle paid off in the second half. Rebounding was a big part of their improved play.
McDonald said he’s impressed with Kawasaki’s cohesiveness on the court.
“You can tell that that team has been playing together for a long time,” said McDonald, who joined the B-Corsairs several weeks after the season began. “They have great chemistry. They know how to move the ball. They get the ball in the right spots at the right time every single time, so a team like that with a group of guys that knows how to play together is difficult to compete against.”
The Brave Thunders’ singular focus remains on being in the title chase in May.
“Obviously, we’re trying to avenge that,” Fazekas said of the team’s loss in the championship final to the Tochigi Brex, “and obviously, we’re trying to build weekly, because you don’t want to be playing your best basketball in March. . . . You want to be playing your best basketball come May, the latter part of May, so we’re trying to get better and better.”
SeaHorses 108, Lakestars 92 (2OT)
In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, Mikawa held off the pesky hosts by controlling the second overtime period.
The hard-earned triumph extended the SeaHorses’ winning streak to eight.
Mikawa scored 18 points in the second OT and held Shiga to two.
Sharpshooter Kosuke Kanamaru canned five 3s, including two in the second OT, in a 30-point effort. He had nine points in the second overtime. Teammate Makoto Hiejima had 24 points and six assists. J.R. Sakuragi contributed 14 points, eight assists and seven boards and Isaac Butts had 17 points and eight rebounds. Ex-NBA big man Courtney Sims, appearing in his second game for the SeaHorses, added six points and 12 boards. Ryoma Hashimoto filled the stat sheet with eight points, 11 assists and five steals.
The SeaHorses boosted their cause at the foul line, making 20 of 23 shots.
Narito Namizato had 24 points, 12 assists and four steals for the Lakestars (12-28) and D’or Fischer finished with 23 points, 16 boards and four blocks. Venky Jois, Koyo Takahashi, Tomonobu Hasegawa and Yusuke Karino all scored nine points in the loss.
Shiga sank 3 of 23 shots from beyond the arc, and drained 9 of 18 free throws.
Hannaryz 90, Brex 86
In Kyoto, Hannaryz big man Joshua Smith was everywhere during the series finale against Tochigi, and he made a huge impact at both ends of the court.
Smith scored 22 points, corralled 25 rebounds (eight offensive) and dished out six assists as Kyoto (24-16) earned its fifth straight win with a spirited comeback against the defending champion. It was the best single-game rebounding total this season in B1.
Tochigi led 51-36 at halftime.
In the fourth quarter, the Hannaryz outscored the visitors 31-16. Yusuke Okada nailed a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to put his team ahead 90-83. Brex guard Shusuke Ikuhara then sank a 3-pointer before the final buzzer to account for the final score.
Kyoto’s Julian Mavunga finished with 21 points and Kevin Hareyama had 13 points and Tatsuya Ito scored 11.
Led by Smith, the Hannaryz outrebounded the Brex 46-34.
Shuhei Kitagawa scored 19 points, including 5 of 9 from long range for the Brex (21-19). Jeff Gibbs added 16 points and Jeff Gibbs had 12 points and eight boards, while Shusuke Ikuhara scored 10 points.
Albirex BB 81, Alvark 72
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Davante Gardner’s 31-point, 15-rebound effort and Kei Igarashi’s 11 assists guided the hosts past Tokyo, who dropped their third straight game.
Keita Imamura poured in 19 points for Niigata (17-23), draining 5 of 6 3s and pulling down eight rebounds. Masashi Joho chipped in with 17 points.
In the fourth quarter, Igarashi’s veteran leadership helped secure the win. He had five assists in the final stanza, and Gardner (eight points) and Joho (seven) carried the offense, which had 20 total points in the fourth.
For the Alvark (29-11), Daiki Tanaka had 22 points and seven assists and Alex Kirk supplied 21 points and 12 rebounds. Jawad Williams and Seiya Ando each scored eight points.
NeoPhoenix 76, Susanoo Magic 71
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, facing a 19-point halftime deficit, the hosts chipped away at the lead in the second half, but fell short in their comeback attempt.
As a result, San-en picked up its fourth consecutive victory.
Shimane lost its 14th in a row.
Robert Dozier paced the NeoPhoenx (19-21) with 17 points and Wendell White scored 13. Scott Morrison and Atsuya Ota had 11 and 10 points, respectively. Tatsuya Suzuki contributed eight points and Shingo Okada and Hayato Kawashima scored seven apiece.
San-en converted 26 of 35 free throws; Shimane made 7 of 10.
Josh Scott led the Magic with 18 points and hauled in seven rebounds. Shota Watanabe had 10 points and four assists and Takuya Soma scored nine points. Gyno Pomare chipped in with seven points, eight rebounds and four assists. Newcomer Al Thornton, a former NBA forward, added six points in 12-plus minutes and fouled out.
Diamond Dolphins 80, Grouses 68
In Toyama, Nagoya dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring the hosts 24-15 and earning its second victory in as many days.
The Diamond Dolphins (20-20) won for the eighth time in 10 games.
The Grouses (17-23) extended their losing streak to eight games.
Nagoya’s Shuto Ando knocked down 5 of 7 3s in a 21-point outing and corralled seven rebounds. Takaya Sasayama sparked the visitors with 18 points and six assists and Justin Burrell had a 12-point, eight-rebound, six-assist performance. Craig Brackins also put 12 points on the board.
Naoki Uto had 18 points and 10 assists for Toyama and Dexter Pittman scored 14 points. Yuto Otsuka finished with 10 points and Sam Willard added nine points and 10 boards.
The Grouses missed 18 of 24 3-point attempts.
Jets 93, Sunrockers 85
In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, the hosts raced out to a 50-37 halftime advantage and held off Shibuya the rest of the way to complete a series sweep.
Michael Parker and Ryumo Ono scored 22 points apiece for the Jets (29-11). Gavin Edwards added 12 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Yuki Togashi provided 12 points and four assists.
Parker was 9-for-10 from the field, while Ono sank 5 of 9 3-point attempts and handed out four assists. Fumio Nishimura dished out five assists.
Chiba hurt its cause at the free-throw line, making 17 of 31 shots, including Edwards’ 2 of 11.
Robert Sacre had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Sunrockers (22-18) and frontcourt mate Josh Harrellson finished with 17 points and 14 boards. Tomoya Hasegawa scored 13 points, Leo Vendrame poured in 11 and Morihisa Yamauchi had seven points and six assists.
Here are the results of Sunday’s second-division games:
Fighting Eagles 86, Samuraiz 80
Volters 105, Wat’s 90
Northern Happinets 91, Firebonds 74
Big Bulls 67, Wyverns 57
Crane Thunders 96, Robots 78
Brave Warriors 65, Five Arrows 63
Bambitious 75, Earthfriends 55
Rizing Zephyr 58, 89ers 51
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