With the biggest of stakes on the line, the Chiba Jets Funabashi and Alvark Tokyo renew their rivalry on Saturday afternoon.
The site: Yokohama Arena. The occasion: the B. League Championship final. Tipoff is set for 2:05 p.m. as Jets bench boss Atsushi Ono and Alvark head coach Luka Pavicevic match wits on the hardwood.
Little separated the two East Division powerhouses during the regular season — two victories to be precise. The Jets went 46-14 to claim the title; the Alvark won 44 of 60.
When they squared off six times during the 60-game B. League season, there were tight games, blowouts and one decided by the thinnest of margin. Also, it’s interesting to note that the loser of all six contests failed to score 70 or more points.
Here’s a rundown of those matchups, which featured four Tokyo triumphs:
■Nov. 11: Chiba 95, Tokyo 59. The hosts outscored the Alvark 25-8 in the third quarter. . . . The Jets drained 9 of 17 3-point shots. . . . Five Chiba players scored in double figures, including Yuki Togashi, who made 4 of 5 3s and had a team-best 20 points. . . . University of New Mexico alum Alex Kirk led Tokyo with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
■Nov. 12: Tokyo 77, Chiba 67. The visiting Alvark rebounded from their series-opening loss, holding the Jets to 13-for-34 shooting from 2-point range. . . . Togashi erupted for 42 points, canning 11 of 15 3s, and Ryumo Ono had 10 points to account for the majority of the Jets’ points. . . . Kirk had 22 points and Zach Baranski scored 13 for Tokyo, which attempted 28 free throws (17 makes) and maintained its poise down the stretch.
■New Year’s Eve: Tokyo 57, Chiba 56. The hosts held the Jets to 5 of 24 on 3-point attempts. . . . Gavin Edwards paced Chiba with 23 points. . . . Seiya Ando led the Alvark with 12 points.
■New Year’s Day: Tokyo 67, Chiba 49. The Alvark ushered in 2018 with an impressive effort in the rebounding department, pulling down 44 boards and holding the Jets to 27. . . . Once again, 3-point shooting was a factor in the final outcome; Chiba made 1 of 11 from beyond the arc. . . . Kirk notched a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds).
■Feb. 17: Tokyo 79, Chiba 65. Playing at home, the Alvark got standout performances from Kirk (23 points) and rising star Daiki Tanaka (19 points, nine assists). . . . Tokyo outrebounded Chiba 40-34. . . . The Alvark led 43-32 at the half. . . . The Jets struggled from 3-point range, making 5 of 23. . . . Edwards had the top scoring game for the visitors, scoring 24, and Ono poured in 13.
■Feb. 18: Chiba 79, Tokyo 69: Edwards had 20 points and Ono added 17 for the Jets. . . . Chiba led 43-32 at intermission and outrebounded the hosts 38-27. . . . Tanaka scored 17 points. . . . The Alvark missed 15 of 18 3-point attempts.
Potential keys to victory
For Chiba, here are three aspects of the game that could lead to a title: 1. Keeping Kirk out of his comfort zone on offense. If he starts scoring immediately and frequently off of high lobs into the post, the Alvark outside game should open up for Ando, Tanaka, Genki Kojima and others. 2. Establishing an inside presence with Michael Parker, Leo Lyons, Ono and Edwards. The Jets have struggled from 3-point range in past defeats to the Alvark. Utilize its depth and employ a run-and-gun offense, rotating Fumio Nishimura and Tomokazu Abe in at the point to keep Togashi fresh. 3. Box out and make a concerted effort to win the rebounding battle. Limiting Tokyo’s second-chance scoring opportunities is important.
For Tokyo, these three components of the finale could lead to a title: 1. Not letting Togashi get on a sensational scoring run similar to his jaw-dropping 42-point outburst in November. In other words, keep a hand in his face whenever he shoots the ball. 2. Get Yudai Baba involved early and often on offense. The rookie energizer is fearless on the court, attacking the rim and making daredevil plays on defense. In the words of Kirk in a recent interview with The Japan Times, “Baba is the most athletic Japanese player in the league.” The final is a showcase for Baba’s impressive leaping ability and athleticism. . . . 3. Keep the score down. The Jets like to run, run and run some more. The Alvark, who have a dynamic one-two power forward tandem in Joji Takeuchi and former Cleveland Cavaliers player Jawad Williams, can dictate the pace of the game if they slow it down and limit the number of Chiba possessions.
Entering the final
The Alvark, guided by first-year Montenegrin mentor Pavicevic, are riding an eight-game winning streak, including a pair of overtime road victories over the Central Division champion SeaHorses Mikawa last weekend. The Jets have won three straight, including the Game 3 tiebreaker (10-minute mini-game) against the Kawasaki Brave Thunders two weeks ago.
Did you know?
Edwards’ father, Earl, was a defensive lineman from 1969-79 in the NFL, suiting up for the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. A 201-cm Wichita State product, Earl Edwards played for the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos before joining the Niners. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up in ’69, finishing behind future Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Yokohama Arena history
The NBA staged regular-season games at Yokohama Arena in 1992 (Seattle SuperSonics and Houston Rockets on Nov. 6-7) and ’94 (Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 4-5).
Alvark 75, Jets 70 (OT)