Basketball / B. League

Brave Thunders pull away from Jets in B. League opener

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

A tight game turned into a lopsided affair — at least for a key stretch of time — in the fourth quarter.

As a result, the Kawasaki Brave Thunders enjoyed the fruits of their labor, convincingly beating the Chiba Jets 82-71 in the opening match of the B. League’s third season before an announced crowd of 5,067 at Funabashi Arena.

For the visitors, Yuma Fujii pushed the lead back to six with a 3-pointer to open the fourth. Fuji made an off-balanced layup and a free throw at the 8:06 mark, when Chiba faced a 65-57 deficit.

After a turnovers on an pass into the post, the Jets faced a 71-60 hole after Ryusei Shinoyama sank a jumper on the ensuing possession.

When a team is making a plethora of plays at both ends of the floor, sometimes the floodgates open up and the score rises quickly. Such was the case down the stretch for Kawasaki, which got a shot-clock-beating 3 from Shane Edwards to stretch its lead to 77-61.

With less than 20 seconds left, Jets mainstays Ryumo Ono and Yuki Togashi missed 3s on back-to-back shots to close out the game.

“We are going to come back strong on Saturday,” Jets forward Aki Chambers vowed afterward.

Rather than playing on consecutive days to compete the series, the Jets and Brave Thunders have a scheduled day off on Friday, then resume their season on Saturday with a 3:10 p.m. game.

Naoto Tsuji paced the Brave Thunders with 20 points and Fujii had 18 with three steals. Newcomer Shane Edwards poured in 15 points with eight rebounds and seven assists and former NBA big man Vernon Macklin notched a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Shinoyama finished with 10 points and doled out eight assists. Kawasaki shot 51.7 percent, including 25 of 44 from inside the arc.

Naturally, Tsuji was pleased his team opened the season with a victory.
“I am happy that I could win against Chiba because we lost our opening game the last two years,” he said.

Kawasaki bench boss Takuya Kita commended his players for defensive intensity. He added that Edwards and Macklin were a strong combination, providing big productivity in the win.

Point guard Yuki Togashi paced the Jets 18 points, but missed six of seven 3-point attempts. Gavin Edwards had 16 point, eight rebounds and five assists and Michael Parker scored 11 points and snared eight boards. Shigehiro Taguchi, Togashi’s former Akita Northern Happinets backcourt mate, had a scoreless night, playing just 10:07. Ryumo Ono scored nine points. Chiba was four of 22 on 3s and shot 40.3 percent overall.

Chiba coach Atsushi Ono said his team gave a determined effort. But he cited its 16 total turnovers as costly in defeat.

Togashi, meanwhile, lamented his team’s rough start.

“The start was not good at all, but I think (we) can figure out how to grow from here,” the All-Star playmaker told reporters.

He added this insight for the fans: “I will go my best (to produce) results with your encouragement.”

Looking ahead to Saturday, Macklin said he expects a difficult rematch at the same venue.

“We know Chiba’s going to go out there and make adjustments, so we have to make adjustments as well,” Macklin told reporters.

It was a three-point halftime advantage held for the hosts, and the tight contest continued after the teams returned from their locker rooms for the third quarter.

Kawasaki cobbled together an 8-0 run to take a 39-36 lead with 7:46 to go in the third quarter. The Jets promptly called a time out to regroup after the second of back-to-back Shane Edwards inside buckets, including a sledge-hammer dunk on the earlier possession.

A pair of Parker free throws stopped the run.

But Kawasaki’s Edwards grabbed an offensive rebound and provided another slam dunk for his team, stretching the visitors’ lead to 48-42 with about 4:30 to play in the quarter.

Chiba trailed for the most of the third period, and Tsuji delivered a dagger — a 3-pointer from the left wing to give his team a seven-point cushion with just over a minute remaining in the 10-minute period.

But the Jets kept battling. Moments later, Chambers made a steal and Parker converted a layup to cut it to 58-55, and it was a one-possession game again.

That was the same score that appeared on the scoreboard to start the fourth quarter between two spirited rivals. Entering the fourth, perimeter marksman Tsuji led all scorers with 20 points, including 4 of 6 from 3-point land, and the visitors four double-digit scorers then.

Kawasaki, which finished as runners-up in the 2016-17 season, and Chiba, who accomplished the same feat in May, are again expected to be among the circuit’s elite teams this season, which set the stage for an intriguing matchup in the opener.

Kawasaki opened the game with an 8-0 scoring spurt, including back-to-back 3-pointers by Tsuji to kick off the new season. After a Parker steal, the ball went to Togashi and he scored a layup while getting fouled, then converted the free throw at the 6:24 mark to make it 8-3.

Moments later, Gavin Edwards sank a pair of foul shots to trim the visitors’ lead to 12-5.

The Chiba offense got off to a slow start, missing numerous jumpers in the early going, but hustled on defense and forced several turnovers to help reduce the deficit. Credit Kawasaki for hounding Chiba ball handlers and shooters at every opportunity during the first period.

The Jets trailed 16-11 after the opening quarter.

Looking back on the game, Coach Ono also noted the team’s slow start, stating a consistent effort his needed for 40 minutes.

He described the team’s offense as a work in progress. “Half-court baskets are still low in quality,” Ono commented, looking back on the scoring output, “… and we will fix it so that the team can fight thoroughly.”

A Chambers steal led to a Gavin Edwards dunk in the opening minute of the second stanza. At this point, the Jets fans were energized and fully engaged in the game and fueled by their team’s scrappy play.

Standing firm on defense against the rapid-fire Brave Thunders passing scheme, an alert Edwards stole a pass in the paint and fired a pass up court, creating a quick scoring chance for Kosuke Ishii, whose layup gave the hosts their first lead of the game, 19-18 with about 7:30 before halftime.

In the closing minute of the half, Taguchi zipped a pass to Chambers near the right baseline. In one continuous motion, Chambers caught the ball and unleashed a 3-point attempt with a rainbow arc. It sailed through the net, and the Jets led 31-26 at that point.

Shortly thereafter, Togashi attacked the basket and made a layup. Fujii then answered with an in-the-paint shot at the other end to account for the final points of the first half. That cut the Chiba lead to 33-30 before the halftime show began.

Edwards paced the Jets with 10 points before intermission, while Fujii was the Brave Thunders’ top scorer with a 10-point half.

The Jets made two of 14 3s in the first 20 minutes and shot 12 of 36 overall; the visitors 42.9 percent of their attempts from the floor in that time span.

In the paint

B. League chairman Masaaki Okawa greeted fans an hour before tip-off. Standing with a microphone on the court with a big smile on his face, he enthusiastically spoke about his desire for them to enjoy this season from the get-go.

Okawa also encouraged fans to enjoy various aspects of basketball culture via the league’s various social media platforms . . . In and around train stations in Funabashi and also in the immediate vicinity of Funabashi Arena, there are numerous posters of the Jets. Group photos and individual images show the players and head coach Atsushi Ono accompanied by the words “Be Professional.” It’s a succinct message that hammers home their mission for the new season. . . . Brave Thunders star Nick Fazekas, the league scoring champ in 2016-17 and last season’s rebounding king, did not play. Kita said Fazekas’ status for Saturday is still not determined without providing specifics.