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Alvark capture B. League title

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Championships are won with well-orchestrated teamwork.

The Alvark Tokyo did just that and played a polished, patient but aggressive game on Saturday. They showcased flashy plays but mostly stuck with their bread-and-butter offense, moving the ball and taking shots in players’ comfort zones. Smart plan.

Conversely, the Chiba Jets Funabashi had no sustained answers for the Alvark’s methodical offense, and Tokyo controlled large stretches of their showdown. It all added up to a comprehensive 85-60 victory in the B. League Final at Yokohama Arena before an announced crowd of 12,005.

The Alvark completed their championship run with nine straight wins, and an East Division club won the title for the second time in as many B. League seasons. (The Tochigi Brex accomplished the feat last May.)

After exchanging hugs and high-fives with players and team staff, first-year Alvark bench boss Luka Pavicevic summarized the team’s goal moving forward, speaking about games and seasons: “This team will fight for every one of them that exists.”

It was the blueprint of their title-winning campaign, too.

Alvark captain Takeki Shonaka was handed the championship trophy after the game ended and joyfully celebrated with his teammates on the court.

Former University of New Mexico center Alex Kirk paced Tokyo (50-16 overall) with a game-high 23 points on 11-for-15 shooting. B. League Champion MVP Daiki Tanaka poured in 15 points and dished out five assists, Yudai Baba had 14 points and three steals and ex-NBA forward Jawad Williams added 10 points.

“First of all, I would like to congratulate my team,” Pavicevic told reporters. “They came in and they had their heads and bodies ready to fight in the championship game in Japan. It’s a long season. And it’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s my congratulations and appreciation (for their effort).”

Tanaka called it a “defensive victory.” He cited the fast break as instrumental in the win, too.

Looking back at the game, Pavicevic said, “OK, so, the game plan against Chiba is to not let them run and that means not give them an easy game going, because they are very talented and fast-moving players. Second is to not let them rebound . . . second-chance offense helps them win many games.”

But in the close first quarter, Pavicevic mentioned that three or four turnovers gave the Jets chances to run, and a few rebounds gave the extra scoring opportunities as well.

“In the second quarter, we just tightened the screws on something that doesn’t look extraordinary . . . but don’t let Chiba score easy on fast breaks and don’t let them bring the potency in rebounding,” Pavicevic stated.

In Game 2 of the Mikawa series in the playoff semifinals, Pavicevic cited a close-out, one-on-one defensive situation against SeaHorses star Makoto Hiejima last Sunday, in which Tanaka hurt his hamstring, slipping on a wet spot on the floor in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture. Tanaka didn’t practice this week and was questionable for the final.

“Daiki has stepped up mentally and physically. He didn’t want to let his team down,” Pavicevic said of Tanaka’s performance. “. . . He’s obviously our offensive option No. 1.”

“He didn’t back down from his defensive (assignment),” the coach added.

The Alvark held the Jets to 34.6 percent shooting through three quarters, including 3 of 18 on 3-pointers, while making 55.3 percent.

Chiba coach Atsushi Ono insisted his team’s 17 turnovers were too many in his opening remarks to reporters in the post-game news conference. He commended Tokyo for its impressive pick-and-roll plays, a big part of its title-winning offense.

Pavicevic, who hails from Montenegro, effectively made player substitutions time after time and they capitalized on their energy and tenacious defense.

Case in point: Rookie Baba wowed the crowd with a flashy reverse layup from the baseline to give the Alvark a 68-51 lead. Chiba called a timeout with 6:48 left in the game. The timeout didn’t quell Tokyo’s momentum. Kirk stuffed a putback attempt to make it 70-53.

Baba put the game on ice with a crowd-pleasing jam off a steal for an 82-58 Tokyo lead with 1:10 remaining

“Yudai’s role on this team is very important,” Pavicevic said of the 22-year-old small forward. “He brings energy, he brings courage, he brings initiative and he brings speed and intensity on both ends of the floor.

“Overall, Yudai was of tremendous importance in this game.”

“They won it fair and square,” Jets forward Michael Parker said.

Jets big man Gavin Edwards said the biggest factor in the match was the Alvark’s impressive offense. “They’re like a machine,” he said. On the other end, Edwards said, the Tokyo defense “forced us into taking some bad shots.”

Edwards led Chiba with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Parker and Leo Lyons finished with 12 points apiece and Ono scored eight. Yuki Togashi contributed seven points and five assists, while Parker had five steals.

The East Division champion Jets (52-16) took the first lead on a Parker layup on their first possession of the game. The Alvark, making their second trip down the court on offense, knotted it at 2-2 on Tanaka’s drive to the hoop. Then Togashi made it 4-2 on a nifty inside move.

Chiba’s Aki Chambers picked up his second foul at the 5:22 mark of the first quarter and went to the bench.

Tanaka sank a stop-and-pop 3 from the left wing to put the Alvark ahead 11-8 before Edwards made two free throws to trim the lead to 11-10.

The big men had the center stage in the early going. For instance, as the quarter neared its finish Kirk caught a lob from Genki Kojima and scored on a forceful dunk, and on the next sequence Edwards knocked down a straightaway 3, tying it at 13-13.

The Alvark scored the last two points of the opening stanza on a pair of Baba free throws. That gave them a 19-18 advantage.

In the second quarter, Ono converted a smooth post-up jumper in the lane to put the Jets in front 20-19 with about 9 minutes before halftime.

The Alvark used a 9-0 spurt to build some breathing room between them and their East Division rival, pulling ahead 40-31. Baba and Seiya Ando capped the run with a pair of layups, the last of which came after a Jets turnover.

The lead changed 11 times in a tight, back-and-forth opening half.

Lyons ended the run with a layup, but Williams had the final highlight of the half, dribbling from midcourt and pulling up a few steps later for a long 3-pointer. Alvark teammates congratulated a fired-up Williams immediately, and they strolled off the court with a 43-33 lead. That emotion carried over to the second half for the champs.

“In the second half, I think we were very focused on both ends of the floor,” Pavicevic stated.

“After Jawad’s 3-pointer, I think the players understood that we needed to stay calm,” was the way he prefaced the team’s effort in the latter half.

Dealing with strong on-ball defense from Tokyo, Chiba shot 38.2 percent, including 2 of 10 on 3s, from the floor in the first half, while the Alvark made 56.3 percent of their shots. Kirk had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting by halftime and Lyons had 11 off the bench for the Jets.

A key factor was this: strength in numbers. Nine Tokyo players scored in the first half.

The third quarter began with Tanaka burying a fadeaway jumper, and the Alvark extending their lead to 47-33 on a Kirk layup. The Jets responded, pulling within 47-39 when Ono drained a 3 from the top of the arc with about 6:30 remaining in the third. Then, after a Tokyo timeout, Zack Baranski made a left-baseline 3 for a 50-39 Tokyo lead.

The Jets, who never led in the third, trailed 61-49 entering the fourth. They were held to 11 fourth-quarter points as Tokyo’s defense sealed the title.

“They are so competitive and proud athletes,” Paviecevic said of his team. “It would be a waste if we don’t (make a) run for championship even if it’s the first year.

Commenting on the team’s 2017-18 goal, he added this: “I told my players they are good now, but let’s go for it now, and let’s work on getting better later. We still need to get better.”

By the numbers: Tokyo outscored Chiba 44-32 in the paint and 13-4 on fast-break points. The Alvark converted Jets turnovers into 19 points. … Chiba had 16 second-chance points, while Tokyo had five. The Jets outrebounded the champs 39-33, including 17-5 on the offensive boards.