Jawad Williams scored his team’s first basket of the game, a 3-pointer from the right corner.
It was a good omen for the defending B. League champions. A sign of things to come.
Williams finished with a game-high 31 points, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range, and pulled down nine rebounds in the Alvark Tokyo’s 83-72 triumph over the Osaka Evessa on Sunday afternoon at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi.
The 35-year-old former University of North Carolina and Cleveland Cavaliers forward had 13 points in the fourth quarter to help Alvark build a cushion.
Appropriately enough, Williams scored the game’s final points, too. He made a pair of free throws with 40.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Teammate Alex Kirk poured in 23 points on 11-for-16 shooting and grabbed 12 boards. The standout center also made a highlight-reel defensive play early in the second quarter, swatting a Pape Faye Mour layup attempt from behind. Kirk timed the block perfectly, extending his arm and leaping to make the rejection. The powerful slap of the ball was not unlike an elite-level volleyball player’s spike.
It was clear that the play fired up Kirk’s Alvark teammates.
Seiya Ando added 13 points for the Alvark and Zack Baranski put eight points on the board, with Yudai Baba adding six points and four assists. Daiki Tanaka dished out seven assists.
Naoya Kumagae led Osaka with 22 points. Faye, a left-handed shooter, had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, while big man Josh Harrellson and Satoshi Nagano both scored nine points. Shota Konno contributed eight points.
After Williams’ aforementioned game-opening basket, Kumagae sank a 3-pointer to tie it at 3-3. Then Kirk drained a jumper to put the Alvark back in front, and they never trailed or shared the lead the rest of the way.
Osaka trailed 18-12 after the opening quarter, a 10-minute portion of the game in which all of its scoring came from 3-point shots, three by Kumagae and one by Konno.
The short-handed Evessa faced a 34-30 deficit entering the third quarter. But they played with a lot of energy and made several timely shots, including a Konno jumper to pull within 46-45 with about 2:45 left in the fourth quarter.
“Osaka is a complete team, but they are missing some important players,” Tokyo coach Luka Pavicevic told reporters, noting the depletion of his opponents’ backcourt depth.
But that was before Williams knocked down a 3-pointer from the right side and then from a few steps inside the arc buried another shot from nearly the same spot. Williams’ turnaround jumper capped an 8-0 scoring spurt he gave his team at a pivotal stretch of the game, which made it 54-45 in Tokyo’s favor.
The Alvark took their biggest lead of the game, 70-57, near the midway point of the fourth on — you guessed correctly — a Williams jumper.
Osaka cut it to 70-63 on a Faye layup off a nice dish from Shunki Hatakeyama.
The Alvark called a timeout to regroup, an attempt to quell the momentum and regain their focus for the stretch run.
Shortly after the timeout, a Williams trey from the left wing pushed the lead back to 10 before Nagano answered with a 3 of his own that made it 73-66.
Then Kirk slammed one down, a powerful jam that made it 75-66.
Ando and Williams added late 3s to seal the win. Ando’s 3 was followed by spirited chants of “Seiya, Seiya” by the team’s excited fans.
Williams’ excellent performance was a bold reminder of what he’s accomplished throughout his career, according to Pavicevic.
“It was,” the coach declared, “a big game from a big-time player.”
Tokyo defeated Osaka 85-70 in the series opener on Saturday.
Evessa bench boss Kensuke Hosaka said his team performed better in the second half, but didn’t maintain a consistent level for the full 40 minutes. Nevertheless, Hosaka said, “it was a good game,” taking the time to commend Nagano, Faye and Kumagae for strong performances.
“For us,” Pavicevic said, “these two games were not easy, especially because they tried to change their defensive coverage in order to slow our offense down (on Sunday).”
With a slow-down, grind-it-out game on display, Pavicevic pointed to defensive productivity as a critical factor in winning the series finale.
“I think the keys were defensively choking up the pick-and-pop game of Harrellson,” Pavicevic said of the Osaka center, who shot 3-for-8 from the field. “I think the offensive pick-and-roll game of (newcomer Trevor) Mbakwe was (also important), and I think finding ways to attack their defense … (mixing things up) were things that we needed to solve. And I think basically we did a really good job.”
With 31 points in the books, Williams smiled when he was asked out his performance by reporters. He called it a “fairly decent game” before adding these remarks: “My teammates did a great job of finding me in the right spots.”
In Williams’ view, a sign of strength for the Alvark is the fact that the team has a deep roster and several players are capable of scoring 25 or 30 points in any given game.
“That’s what makes us dangerous,” he said. “And today, as the game went on we were able to pull away.”
But before that happened, Williams also chimed on what occurred in the opening half after Kirk’s dynamic block.
“Plays like that are just as big as dunks,” Williams said. “It gives guys on the perimeter more freedom to pressure because you know you’ve got a guy like Alex back there who can block shots.”
Kirk reflected on his powerful block in a post-game interview with The Japan Times.
“I think it was a good play,” he said. “Baba got back and played great defense and I was able to come help him.
“The game was up and down, but it didn’t really feel like too close of a game,” Kirk added. “I always had confidence that we were going to be able to get over the hill and kind of separate a little bit from there.”
NeoPhoenix 79, Diamond Dolphins 69
In Nagoya, San-en outscored the hosts 30-14 in the pivotal third quarter en route to their second victory in as many days.
Josh Childress sparked the NeoPhoenix (15-20) with 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. William McDonald and Hayato Kawashima contributed 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Markeith Cummings paced Nagoya (19-16) with 27 points and 13 rebounds and Shuto Ando had a 12-point outing.
Albirex BB 78, Rizing Zephyr 73
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, the hosts’ dynamic frontcourt tandem powered the Albirex past Fukuoka to complete a weekend sweep.
Lamont Hamilton scored a team-high 20 points and Davante Gardner netted 18 points with eight rebounds and six assists. Niigata guard Kei Igarashi finished with 14 points as the Albirex (25-10) picked up their ninth victory in a row.
Daisuke Kobayashi led the Rizing Zephyr (9-26) with 24 points and five assists, while Benjamin Lawson had 13 points.
Jets 86, Grouses 68
In Toyama, Chiba routed the hosts to collect its 12th consecutive victory.
Yuki Togashi ignited the title-chasing Jets (30-5) with 25 points. He drained 5 of 7 3-point attempts. Teammate Fumio Nishimura scored 11 points and handed out five assists and Aki Chambers chipped in with 10 points.
Chiba led 41-32 at halftime.
Leo Lyons led Toyama (18-17) with 29 points and corralled 11 rebounds.
Joshua Smith scored 20 points with 11 boards and seven turnovers in the loss.
The Grouses dropped their fourth straight contest.
SeaHorses 76, Golden Kings 74
In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, sharpshooter Kosuke Kanamaru had a 24-point afternoon and frequent trips to the free-throw line as Mikawa edged Ryukyu for a bounce-back win.
Kanamaru was 10-for-10 on free throws.
Kennedy Meeks added 15 points and 19 rebounds for the SeaHorses
(18-17) and 20-year-old guard Yuta Okada also scored 20 points, with floor leader J.R. Sakuragi providing 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Kevin Jones had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Jeff Ayres finished with 22 and 10 for the Golden Kings (24-11).
B-Corsairs 77, Northern Happinets, 71
In Akita, veteran sniper Takuya Kawamura’s 23-point, five-assist effort helped carry Yokohama past the hosts.
The B-Corsairs (9-26), who earned a weekend split, also got 13 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks from Prince Ibeh.
The Coleby brothers, Dwight and Kadeem, both scored 15 points for Akita (13-22). Dwight Coleby led the club with 11 rebounds. Takuya Nakayama dished out six assists.
Sunrockers 71, Lakestars 65
In Tokyo, Robert Sacre’s 21-point, nine-rebound performance helped guide Shibuya past Shiga.
Ryan Kelly chipped in with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Leo Vendrame had 11 points and four assists for the Sunrockers (15-19).
The Lakestars (7-27) squandered numerous scoring opportunities at the free-throw line, making just 12 of 27 foul shots.
Gani Lawal led Shiga with 25 points and 20 rebounds. Koyo Takahashi and Marqus Blakely added 13 points apiece. Blakely also had nine rebounds, five assists, seven turnovers and six steals.
The teams complete the series on Monday night.
In the paint
The second-division’s Kagawa Five Arrows lost their 18th consecutive game on Sunday. They are now 6-29 and tied with the Hachioji Bee Trains for the worst record in B2.