UTSUNOMIYA, TOCHIGI PREF. - The Kawasaki Brave Thunders are going to enter the next season with a big chip on their shoulder after they were swept out of the B. League quarterfinals by the Tochigi Brex on Saturday, bringing an abrupt end to a tough and frustrating 2018-19 campaign.
The way the Brave Thunders fell to Tochigi left a bitter taste in their mouths. Essentially, Kawasaki played the same way in both contests, without being able to get its offense going against Tochigi’s aggressive, opportunistic defense. Kawasaki lost those games 87-57 and 89-62, respectively, committing 30 turnovers and giving up 21 steals.
“Tochigi’s defense was so good and our offense didn’t work at all, taking tough shot after tough shot,” Kawasaki head coach Takuya Kita said after Game 2. He added he would take full responsibility for the loss.
The Brave Thunders have now bowed out of the postseason’s first round in two straight campaigns.
Reflecting on the whole year, Kawasaki never seemed to play in sync due to a lack of practice time together. The team has three Japanese men’s national team players in Nick Fazekas, Ryusei Shinoyama and Naoto Tsuji, all of whom occasionally spent time away from their club team while on duty with the Akatsuki Five over the course of theseason.
Additionally, Fazekas, who has been the team’s — and league’s — most consistent scorer since his arrival in 2012, underwent ankle surgery last summer and took time to feel fully comfortable physically.
While he held his head up despite the weekend’s losses to Tochigi, Shinoyama seemed shocked that his team wasn’t able to stake its claim as one of the pro circuit’s elite teams this year.
“When we played against Tochigi in the championship game of the B. League’s first season, the gap between us and them was fewer than 10 points (Tochigi won 85-79),” he said after Game 2. “But, regretfully, I feel the gap has gotten wider.”
The 30-year-old admitted that Kawasaki’s inability to put together extended winning streaks only added to the team’s frustration.
The Brave Thunders’ longest win streak this year was eight, between late March and early April. In the B. League’s inaugural 2016-17 season, the Brave Thunders posted the best record at 49-11 and had a 15-game winning streak en route to its trip to the title game.
A year before Fazekas landed in Japan, the team finished dead last in the 2011-12 Japan Basketball League with just eight wins and 34 losses. Although the Brave Thunders racked up a superior 40-20 record, Shinoyama said this year reminded him of that miserable campaign nearly a decade ago, in which he was a rookie.
“We struggled to extend our winning streaks and failed to capture the (Central) division title,” the captain and point guard said. “I don’t think we’ve had a season as frustrating as this year since Nick came.”
While he may have been emotional right after an embarrassing defeat, Shinoyama hinted that the team might make drastic changes to become a legitimate title contender again.
“We’ve often said our core members have not changed,” Shinoyama said. “But while the imports have changed every year, there have been (Japanese) players who have left this team and we have really not acquired others from other places. We’ve acquired players from universities and developed them from scratch. That’s the style we’ve had. But (with that style) we haven’t been in the top group.”
He added: “I have regrets from having finished runner-up in the first season, but I feel even more regret now.”