Basketball / B. League

Alvark defense smothers Brave Thunders to complete weekend sweep

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The defending champion Alvark Tokyo refuse to accept complacency as a chief trait of their 2018-19 campaign.

Instead, relentless defense and smart, effective offense are characteristics that shine through on the court for Tokyo bench boss Luka Pavicevic’s club. Furthermore, the weekend showdown with the Kawasaki Brave Thunders demonstrated that the Alvark are operating at a high level on both ends of the floor.

The Alvark completed a two-game sweep of the work-in-progress Brave Thunders on Sunday at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi, winning 66-46 in a game that was determined by what Tokyo did on defense. Again.

Tokyo (6-1) held the visitors to 33.3 percent shooting overall, which included 0-for-8 on 3-point attempts.

Key statistics from the series finale included the head-to-head numbers in three categories that the Alvark dominated: points from turnovers (21-9), points in the paint (38-28) and fast-break points (23-4).

“You saw your team play very hard today and yesterday,” Pavicevic said, addressing Alvark fans after the game. “They keep pushing the limit.”

The second-year head coach said intensity on defense was a key factor in the back-to-back victories.

Starting center Alex Kirk sparked the hosts with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and second-year pro Yudai Baba came off the bench and energized the home team with 13 points. Veteran power forward Joji Takeuchi provided nine points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks in a spirited effort, while Zack Baranski scored seven points, with point guard Seiya Ando contributing five points and four assists.

With his roster from last season essentially intact, Kirk said after the game that his team is “just getting better.” He admitted that he’s pleased with where the team is at performance-wise at this stage of the season, too.

Kawasaki, which dropped the series opener 89-67, only had one 20-point quarter in the series, getting exactly 20 points in the third quarter of Saturday’s game. On Sunday they managed just 12, 8, 16 and 10 points over the four periods.

Former NBA forward Vernon Macklin scored 13 points to lead the Brave Thunders (4-3) and Naoto Tsuji and Nick Fazekas both had 12. Five Brave Thunders players saw court time without putting a point on the board, underscoring the comprehensive and tenacious defensive effort exerted by Tokyo.

At halftime, the Brave Thunders trailed 36-20.

They failed to put together a sustained offensive run to get back in the game.

The Alvark secured a rout with a late run, a 9-0 spurt that gave them their biggest lead of the contest (64-41) on a Daiki Tanaka layup late in the fourth quarter.

Fazekas, the league scoring champ in 2016-17, underwent surgery on his left ankle in the summer and is working his way into form. When he’s at the top of his game, the Kawasaki offense operates at a higher octane. For now, Brave Thunders coach Takuya Kita is limiting his minutes in his first few games (Fazekas played a whisker under 23 minutes on Sunday), and the team’s offense is taking time to build cohesiveness as it integrates newcomers Macklin and Shane Edwards into the mix.

While Pavicevic highlighted his team’s defensive energy over the weekend, Kita lamented his offense’s poor performance, acknowledging that 46 points was inadequate.

“Tokyo played excellent defense yesterday and today,” Kita said.

At halftime, Kita revealed, he reminded his players to be more aggressive on offense, attacking the basket. But he credited Tokyo for countering that tactic by playing aggressive defense.

In a nutshell, Pavicevic summed up a major element of his game plan this way: “Deny them easy opportunities.”

Indeed, his defense prevailed.

Frustrated Brave Thunders point guard Ryusei Shinoyama, one of the scoreless quintet, said the team’s offense didn’t “step up” against Tokyo’s pressure defense. With newcomers on the roster, there’s room to improve step by step, he added.

Golden Kings 91, NeoPhoenix 60

In Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, Ryukyu maintained its strong form to open the season, routing San-en to complete a weekend sweep.

Josh Scott had 26 points and 14 rebounds to spark the Golden Kings (6-1), who led 45-27 at halftime.

Jeff Ayres added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Takatoshi Furukawa scored 13 points. Narito Namizato contributed eight points and seven assists.

Atsuya Ota led the NeoPhoenix (1-6) with 14 points and William McDonald and Shaquille Morris both had 13. The hosts shot 1 of 10 on 3s.

B-Corsairs 72, Lakestars 70

In Yokohama, veteran sniper Takuya Kawamura scored 25 points and handed out five assists and Javon McCrea pumped in 19 points as the B-Corsairs defeated Shiga for the second day in a row.

Yokohama (2-5) outscored the visitors 25-7 in the fourth quarter, and coach Tom Wisman’s club won it on Kawamura’s inside jumper, the final basket of the game, with 19 seconds remaining.

Gani Lawal had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakestars (2-5) and Junki Kano finished with 16 points.

Northern Happinets 73, Rizing Zephyr 53

In Akita, the hosts took a 19-7 lead into the second quarter en route to a rout of Fukuoka.

Justin Keenan provided 28 points and 11 rebounds for the Northern Happinets (3-4). Kadeem Coleby scored 13 points and Shota Onodera had 10.

For the Rizing Zephyr (0-7), Daisuke Kobayashi was the top scorer with 13 points and Shota Tsuyama had 11.

Grouses 95, Hannaryz 64

In Toyama, offseason acquisition Leo Lyons had another quality performance to help carry the Grouses past Kyoto and wrap up a series sweep.

Lyons scored 24 points and hauled in 14 rebounds to lead a balanced offensive attack that featured five double-digit scorers. Tomokazu Abe poured in 16 points, Joshua Smith had 15 and perimeter marksman Yuto Otsuka was 4 of 4 on 3s in a 14-point outing for Toyama (5-2).

David Simon paced the Hannaryz (4-3) with 18 points.

Brex 79, Levanga 70

In Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture, the hosts controlled the tempo in the final stanza and recorded a bounce-back victory over Hokkaido.

Ryan Rossiter notched a double-double (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Seiji Ikaruga had 14 points for Tochigi (6-1), which finished with 21 assists and nine turnovers.

David Doblas made 10 of 15 shots in a 23-point afternoon for Hokkaido (3-4).

Diamond Dolphins 80, Evessa 70

In Osaka, Markeith Cummings ignited Nagoya with a 25-point game and frontcourt partner Justin Burrell chipped in with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Shuto Ando added 10 points for the Diamond Dolphins (5-2), who also won the series opener.

Former University of Kentucky big man Josh Harrellson had 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Evessa (4-3) and Faye Pape Mour added 14 points and 13 boards. Rei Goda poured in 13 points and Shunki Hatakeyama dished out eight assists.

Jets 94, Albirex BB 87

In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, balanced scoring carried the hosts past Niigata for the second consecutive day.

Yuki Togashi lit the offensive spark with 19 points and seven assists, with four teammates also scoring in double digits, including Michael Parker (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Gavin Edwards (16 points, 10 boards) for the Jets (5-2).

Davante Gardner led the Albirex (4-3) with 24 points and Lamont Hamilton and Shinsuke Kashiwagi both scored 17. Hamilton also corralled 12 rebounds.

SeaHorses 76, Sunrockers 71

In Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, James Southerland and J.R.Sakuragi combined for 49 points as Mikawa recorded its first series sweep of the young season, edging struggling Shibuya.

Southerland poured in 25 points and snared 14 rebounds. In addition to 24 points, Sakuragi had nine rebounds and four assists.

The SeaHorses (2-5) held the visitors to eight second-quarter points.

Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre scored 25 and 15 points, respectively for the Sunrockers (1-6).